Saturday Night Offers Trio of Events to Closely Watch

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Ted Black

January 20th, 2017

This Saturday night might mark the eve of the National Football League conference championship games, but it will also offer thoroughbred and standardbred racing fans a chance to share the spotlight as the Eclipse Awards are unveiled at Gulfstream Park in Florida while both Yonkers Raceway and The Meadowlands offer solid overnight events.

Saturday's 46th annual Eclipse Awards presentation will likely save most of the drama for the end as many of the division champions appear obvious - there are three finalists for each category nevertheless - but the chase for 2016 horse of the year will finally end after two solid months of speculation.

Immediately after Arrogate overhauled California Chrome to capture the $5 million Breeders Cup Classic at Santa Anita on the first Saturday in November, thoroughbred racing fans, novice and expert alike, have been debating which of those horses would eventually garner the coveted prize of horse of the year. California Chrome appears a cinch to take home the title of champion older dirt male, while Arrogate emerged late to ascend to the head of a mediocre three-year-old crop.
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The two days of the Breeders Cup Championship races - an event that could be condensed to one spectacular day if some of the moderate races get dropped - proved to have a common theme. The four horses all considered front-runners for horse of the year, Songbird, Tepin, Flintshire and California Chrome, all suffered the same fate. They finished second in their respective Breeders Cup events. Songbird suffered the narrowest defeat in a nose setback to Beholder, while Calfornia Chrome led the Classic until the shadow of the wire.

The horses that defeated Songbird, Tepin and Flintshire could not join the argument for horse of the year, but when Arrogate overhauled California Chrome to annex the Classic the Bob Baffert trainee was thrust into the argument for horse of the year. He had previously won the Grade I Travers Stakes in track record fashion and his victory over California Chrome had some hailing him as the next super horse.

But when the Eclipse Award voters all got their ballots last month they had to decide whether Arrogate's late season surge - the Travers and Breeders Cup were his only stakes outings - was enough for him to wrestle the title from California Chrome and the other logical contenders. When the three finalists for horse of the year were announced, Arrogate, California Chrome and Songbird were the last ones standing. Tepin and Flintshire, locks for an Eclipse Award on the turf, had been eliminated from consideration for the grand prize.

Save the chase for champion female sprinter, which could go to either Finest City, winner of the Breeders Cup F-M Sprint or Paulassilverlining, who perhaps had the better campaign, the other divisions appear indisputable. Classic Empire (two-year-old colt), Champagne Room (two-year-old filly), Arrogate (3yo colt), Songbird (3yo filly), Beholder (older female), California Chrome (older male), Drefong (sprinter), Flintshire (male turf) and Tepin (female turf) should have received no less than 75 percent of the first-place votes in their respective categories.

But the announcement for horse of the year is going to be exceedingly anticipated and well worth the wait. Will the voters side with Arrogate, whose victories in the Travers and Breeders Cup Classic just over two months apart, launched him onto the world stage, or California Chrome, who began his season in Dubai and won six straight races before settling for second in the Classic? For those who will not be content with the result of the voting, both Arrogate and California Chrome are slated to meet again one week from Saturday in the inaugural $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.
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Standardbred racing fans will be giving the Eclipse Awards a casual look throughout the evening, but they will focus most of gheir attention on several races at Yonkers Raceway in New York and The Meadowlands in New Jersey.

Saturday's $45,000 Open Handicap at Yonkers is an intriguing race that includes a compact field of six older pacers. Roland N Rock (Jordan Stratton), Blood Brother (Jason Bartlett) and PH Supercam finished one-two three in this event last Saturday, while Caviart Luca (George Brennan) triple jumps off a win against non-winners of $20,000 last five starts company last Saturday for trainer Ron Burke. City Hall (Tyler Buter) gets the coveted rail two weeks after being assigned the eight hole in this event, while EZ Noah (Daniel Dube) steps up off a pocket-trip score against the non-winners of $20,000 last five class here opening day.

Then one race later on the card, Somewhere In L A (Matt Kakaley) looks to continue his winning ways despite being assigned the outside slot in the $35,000 Preferred Handicap for older pacers. This six-year-old Somebeachsomewhere gelding trained by Richard Banca has won both of his starts this year and three straight overall and is undoubtedly the sharpest horse at the oval right now. Both Sports Bettor and Somewhere Fancy exit the Open, while Millondollar Wave steps up off a pocket trip 12-1 upset score in the non-winners of $25,000 last five starts condition.

That same evening across the Hudson River at the Meadowlands, the overnight feature comes right at the midway point of the card when nine pacers clash in a non-winners of $11,500 last five starts class. Railbound Ontario Success (Yannick Gingras) looks to atone for a second-place finish at 3-5 against lesser, while Barimah A (John Campbell) has been second twice at this level in his last four tries. Durant (Eric Carlson) steps up off a pair of sharp scores against $20,000 and $30,000 claimers for Eric Foster, while Hillbilly Hanover (Brett Miller) seeks his third straight while climbing the class ladder in an effort to emulate the streak that City Hall enjoyed here in December.