Tis the Season for Filling Out Ballots

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Ted Black

December 20th, 2016

While the numerous division winners and harness horse of the year was unveiled this week, members of the National Turf Writers Association have just begun to fill out their ballots to determined the numerous Eclipse Award winners among the top thoroughbreds in North America.

In actuality, ballots are not due until the end of the year as voters are encouraged to take into account the last two Grade I races slated to be contested at Santa Anita later this month, the La Brea Stakes for three-year-old fillies and the Malibu Stakes for three-year-old colts. But in reality those events should have little impact on any of the division honors when the Eclipse Awards are announced on January 21 at Gulfstream Park.

Two-year-old colt - Classic Empire is not only listed alphabetically on top of the info packet mailed to each of the voters, he deserves to garner the top honor thanks to ending the campaign with consecutive Grade I victories, including the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. He won four of five starts and earned nearly $1.5 million, with his lone setback occurring other fluky circumstances when he got off to an awkward start in the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and tossed jockey Irad Oritz, Jr.

Two-year-old filly - Champagne Room posted a 33-1 shocker in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies, but earlier she won the Grade II Sorrento Stakes as the 6-5 choice for trainer Peter Eurton and gets the nod over Farrell, Abel Tasman and Miss Sky Warrior.
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Three-year-old colt - Arrogate emerged on the scene late in the year, winning the Grade I Travers Stakes in track record time and then ending the season with a determined score in the Breeders Cup Classic over California Chrome. His belated two triumphs should catapult him past Exaggerator, Nyquist, Connect, Gun Runner and Drefong in a very mediocre crop.

Three-year-old filly - Songbird dominated the division for a second straight season and just missed by a nose against seasoned, older rival Beholder in the Breeders Cup Distaff. That nose defeat was the first of her 12-race career and, while it hardly impacted this division title, it might have cost her far more serious consideration for horse of the year.

Older dirt male - California Chrome won two races in Dubai, two at Del Mar and then another at Santa Anita before being overhauled in the lane by likely three-year-old champion Arrogate in the Breeders Cup Classic. The five-year-old Lucky Pulpit stallion won seven of eight starts and banked a whopping $8 million to push his record lifetime bankroll past $14.5 million and he rates the easy choice in this category.

Older dirt mare - Beholder and Stellar Wind met in four Grade I events on the west coast, with each winning two. Beholder won the first one, Stellar Wind won the next two but Beholder won the last one, the Breeders Cup Distaff, which pushed her seasonal earnings past $1.7 million and career bankroll past $6 million and vaulted her to the head of the older mare class once again.

Male sprinter - Like Arrogate, Drefong emerged late on the scene for Baffert, winning the Grade I Kings Bishop for three-year-olds at Saratoga then capturing the Breeders Cup Sprint against older foes. A.P. Indian won six of seven starts for trainer Arnaud Delacour, including two Grade I events at Saratoga, but he was soundly defeated by Drefong in the Breeders Cup Sprint and likely surrendered that title that day.

Female sprinter - In a wide open division in which none of these ladies, young or old, stood out, my vote went to Paulassilverlining, who won two Grade III events, a Grade II and capped her campaign by taking the Garland O Roses at Aqueduct after running third in the Breeders Cup Filly-Mare Sprint. Finest City won that event to finish the season with a 2-2-2 slate and $825,000 banked for trainer Ian Kruljac and could emerge victorious in this category.

Male Turf - Flintshire won three of five starts and finished second in the other two, including the Grade I Breeders Cup Turf. The Chad Brown trainee has immense class and a tremendous turn of foot, evidenced more so in his runner-up performance in the Breeders Cup than in any of his three wins this season. Highland Reel was able to capture the Turf in wire-to-wire fashion after strolling through an opening three-quarter split of 1:12.3 and then completing the 12 furlongs in 2:23, meaning he ran the last three-quarters in 1:10.2. Flintshire actually made up five lengths in that span, meaning he got the last three-quarters of the one-mile and one-half marathon in 1:09.2.

Female turf - Tepin won six of eight starts and was second in her last two, including the Breeders Cup Mile against older males. She won major stakes at five different tracks in three different countries and was among the serious horse of the year contenders until she just missed in the Mile.

The 2016 harness racing division titles and horse of the year were unveiled over the last week and there were certainly few surprises.

Always B Miki, the sport's fastest horse of all-time courtesy of his 1:46 triumph at Lexington's Red Mile, was named champion older pacer, pacer of the year and horse of the year. Wiggle It Jiggleit, the 2015 harness horse of the year, finished second in all three categories among 155 votes cast.
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Trotter of the year went to three-year-old champion Marion Marauder, who literally edged Hannelore Hanover by one vote, 73-72. Hannelore Hanover, champion older mare trotter, actually finished third in the horse of the year voting, while Marion Marauder and Betting Line, the champion three-year-old colt pacer, were tied with four votes apiece.

Many of the division titles were decided handily. Walner received all but four votes for champion two-year-old colt trotter, while Ariana G got all but three votes for champion two-year-old filly trotter. Marion Marauder got all but nine votes for champion three-year-old colt trotter, while Hannelore Hanover was four votes shy of being a unanimous choice for champion trotting mare. Broadway Donna got more than 80 percent of the votes for champion three-year-old filly trotter, while Obrigado overtook Resolve - DQ'd from one of his major wins for a medication violation - for older trotter.

There were similar lopsided tallies among the pacers. Huntsville (2yo colt) and Idyllic Beach (2yo filly) both got nearly 80 percent of the votes in their respective categories, as did Betting Line (3yo colt). Pure Country (3yo filly) notched her second straight division title with nearly 90 percent of the votes, while Lady Shadow (older mare) got 95 percent and was the unanimous choice for Maryland-bred horse of the year.

After studying the results and applying a few modest mathematical formulas, my guess is that only four of the 155 ballots cast actually correctly picked all 15 winners correctly. While many of the divisions produced landslide results, the chase for trotter of the year eliminated more half of those aiming for a potential clean sweep and the voting for older trotter perhaps knocked out 40 percent of the remainder. My ballot was far from perfect, but I would be curious to see if the actual number of perfect ballots over above or below four.