best of the best in 2021

By Dick Jerardi

The most fascinating Eclipse Award decision was definitely going to be 3-year-old male, annually one of the two, along with Horse of the Year, marquee categories.

The voters had two great choices: Essential Quality or Medina Spirit. EQ won the Southwest, Blue Grass, Belmont, Jim Dandy, and the Travers while finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. MS won the Robert Lewis, the Kentucky Derby, the Shared Belief, and the Awesome Again while finishing second in the Sham, San Felipe, Santa Anita Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic as well as third in the Preakness.

I had real trouble making a decision but finally went with Medina Spirit because he won the Derby, the biggest race of all, and finished in front of Essential Quality that day and in the BC Classic.

Essential Quality ended up with 131 votes to Medina Spirit’s 84. The wonderful Life Is Good got 18 votes.

I have no problem with the result. Essential Quality is certainly a deserving champion. I was actually concerned the voting would be more one-sided which would not have been fair to the accomplishments of Medina Spirit.

Some, who revealed their ballots before the result was announced, clearly were not voting for Medina Spirit because of the betamethasone positive and/or their antipathy for trainer Bob Baffert. I did not consider the positive as it has not been adjudicated and, under any circumstance, I don’t think the Derby result had anything to do with betamethasone. And I certainly did not consider the Baffert issue. It was just about accomplishment.

I thought Medina Spirit was slightly more accomplished. More voters thought it was Essential Quality. Fair enough.

Horse of the Year was not close, as it should not have been. Knicks Go got 232 of 235 votes. My kind of horse – to the front and gone. And when all the best horses showed up at Del Mar for the Classic, none of them could keep up with Knicks Go.

Echo Zulu (2-year-old filly), Corniche (2-year-old male), Malathaat (3-year-old filly), Letruska (older female) and Knicks Go again (older male) each won with almost all of the votes.

Jackie’s Warrior won the Sprint Championship on the basis of his overall season, even though his worst race was in the BC Sprint. Jackie got 110 votes to 50 for BC Sprint winner Aloha West and 33 for the incredible Flightline. No doubt, Flightline is better than all of them, but he did not have the resume. I voted for Jackie’s Warrior.

Female Sprint champion was fairly close with BC Filly & Mare Sprint winner Ce Ce beating Gamine 136-97. I voted for Ce Ce.

I was a little surprised that Loves Only You won the female turf category. She got 136 votes to 70 for my selection War Like Goddess. Nothing against Loves Only You who had an awesome year, won the BC Filly & Mare Turf, and became the first Japanese bred to win an Eclipse Award. But she raced just once in North America while War Like Goddess ran all six of her races here. That obviously did not matter to the majority of voters.

Yibir, with his win in the BC Turf and another North American stakes win, got 135 votes to win the male grass championship. Domestic Spending and Space Blues each got 33 votes. I voted for Domestic Spending, but he only raced three times and Yibir did win the biggest race. Domestic Spending scratched two days before the BC Turf.

Joel Rosario deservedly won his first Eclipse Award as champion jockey in a runaway. He got 213 votes, including mine.

 I thought the champion trainer was a close call. The voters did not, giving it to Brad Cox 189-33 over Steve Asmussen. I was one of the 33.

Cox won 253 races with horse earnings of $31 million. Asmussen won 442 races with horse earnings of $30.5 million. Each had 10 Grade I winners and two champions (Knicks Go and Essential Quality for Cox, Jackie’s Warrior and Echo Zulu for Asmussen). Cox won 30 overall graded stakes to Asmussen’s 21.

Again, it seemed closer to me and I broke the tie because I thought it would be nice for Asmussen to get the award in the year he broke the all-time wins record.

Bottom line, 2021 was a fabulous year at the top of the sport, the Triple Crown races were run when they were supposed to be, the fans returned and we all got to see some sensational performances.

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