Got my 2021 Eclipse Awards ballot the other day and, as I began to pour over the past performances of the horses and humans in various categories, I began to marvel at what a great year it was on the track. If that was the only story…
Let’s start at the end. Knicks Go is going to be the Horse of the Year after winning the Pegasus, Whitney, Breeders Cup Classic and $7.3 million. That the 5-year-old held his form from January to November is a rarity these days.
Speaking of holding form all year, how about Medina Spirit and Essential Quality? The most difficult category for me and I suspect most other voters will be the 3-year-old male champion. Almost impossible to separate the two colts. Essential Quality raced from February to November and never failed to fire, his two biggest wins being the Belmont Stakes and Travers. Medina Spirit stayed in form from January to November, his biggest win being the biggest race we have, the Kentucky Derby.
I think Essential Quality has a slightly better resume in terms of races won. I think Medina Spirit’s resume would look much better if he did not have to run against then stablemate Life is Good twice. (By the way, I think Life is Good is better than both of them, but, because of injury and time away, he just does not have the resume.) The tiebreaker for me is going to be that the two colts ran against each other twice in the biggest race for 3-year-olds and “the’’ championship race, the BC Classic. Medina Spirit finished in front of Essential Quality both times. I am not considering the betamethasone positive for Medina Spirit in the Derby because it has not been adjudicated and I don’t think it had anything to do with him winning anyway.
Corniche and Echo Zulu are easy choices as 2-year-old colt and 2-year-old filly champions respectively. Malathaat is a no-brainer as the 3-year-old filly champion.
Knicks Go and Letruska (a 2021 record four Grade I wins) are locks as older male and female respectively.
Even though Jackie’s Warrior’s only bad sprint race was in the biggest race (BC Sprint), I still like him as the sprint champ based on overall resume. Ce Ce upset Gamine in the BC Filly & Mare Sprint and should be the female sprint champion.
I found the resumes of the male grass horses underwhelming, but likely will vote for Domestic Spending. War Like Goddess was an easy choice for the female turf champion.
Hard to believe Joel Rosario has never won the Eclipse Award as champion jockey. That should change. He has nearly $33 million in earnings and had a real chance to break Jerry Bailey’s record for graded stakes wins in a year until a recent injury paused him at 49 graded stakes wins in 2021.
Despite missing the entire Saratoga meet and the final month and change of the Belmont Spring meet after being injured on Belmont Stakes Day, Parx legend Kendrick Carmouche has more than $9 million in earnings, closing on the best earnings year of his career.
Hard to separate Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen for Trainer of the Year. Each is over $30 million in earnings. With Essential Quality and Knicks Go, Cox obviously had the higher quality talent, but Asmussen is going to win close to 500 races and had an incredible Saratoga meeting. Slightest of edges to Asmussen.
Jamie Ness, who will win the Parx training title for the second consecutive year, is third nationally in wins (298 through Dec. 17) and 12th in earnings (nearly $8 million).
Special achievement award to the incredible trainer Charlie Appleby who had 18 starters in North America in 2021 and won with nine of them, including eight Grade I Stakes and three BC winners (Modern Games, Space Blues, Yibir). His nine winners earned almost $6 million.
It helped, of course, that he was training for Godolphin which dominated in North America, Europe, and Dubai. In addition to all those grass winners, Godolphin also had Essential Quality, Maxfield, and Mystic Guide on the main track. They had 11 Grade I wins. That outfit will certainly be named leading owner and breeder for 2021.
Joe Besecker, who runs horses at Parx regularly, is in a battle for the second-leading owner in terms of wins. He has 114 wins with a few days left in the year. Jagger, Inc, easily the leading owner at Parx, is No. 6 nationally with 82 wins.
One fun category that is not an Eclipse category is the horse with the most wins. Shinny (12), Greeley and Ben (11) and Free to Fly (10) had a combined 33 wins in 43 starts. The wonderful Chub Wagon, representing Parx, had the best overall record with 8 wins and 1 second in 9 starts.