Southern California will play host to the annual Eclipse Awards ceremony for the first time since 2012 on Thursday at Santa Anita when horse racing hands out its version of the Academy Awards.
Many of the categories figure to be slam dunks, but there are two awards that hold special interest – top 3-year-old male of 2021 and best male sprinter.
In the 3-year-old male division, Essential Quality, Medina Spirit and Life Is Good are the three finalists. Jackie’s Warrior, Flightline and Aloha West are the three finalists for top male sprinter.
Essential Quality and the late Medina Spirit have similar résumés. Each won two Grade I stakes, although Medina Spirit’s Kentucky Derby victory is tainted by a drug positive after the race. That alone might have swayed voters in Essential Quality’s direction. He’s believed the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission could rule on the Derby result soon.
“A strong case definitely can be made for either Essential Quality or Medina Spirit,” Jon White, Santa Anita’s morning-line maker and racing historian, said in an email. “And even beyond that, I would not knock anyone who voted for Life Is Good (impressive winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile). My guess is Essential Quality is going to get it.
“I gave the slightest of nods to Essential Quality on my ballot for having such an overall excellent year that was highlighted by victories in such important races as the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes. But I also certainly can understand anyone voting for Medina Spirit, who finished in front of Essential Quality both times they met, first in the Kentucky Derby and then in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.”
In the male sprint division, Jackie’s Warrior was a heavy favorite heading into last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar, but he finished sixth in a race won by Aloha West by a nose over Dr. Schivel.
Despite the Steve Asmussen-trained colt’s poor showing that day, coupled with Flightline’s utter dominace in three starts – a combined victory margin of 37 1/2 lengths – White expects Jackie’s Warrior’s connections to accept the Eclipse Award.
“The best sprinter I saw in 2021, by far, was Flightline, who did get my vote,” White said. “But I think there are too many people, especially in the eastern part of the country where there are so many votes, who will have voted for Jackie’s Warrior, mainly because he raced more than Flightline.”
Knicks Go, easy winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, is a virtual cinch to give trainer Brad Cox his first Horse of the Year. The other finalists were not revealed, but will be announced at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Two other interesting categories with local ties include:
• The top female sprinter, with Ce Ce one of the finalists after winning the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint over the heavily favored Gamine.
• Jessica Pyfer and John Hiraldo are in a race for top apprentice jockey, with Pyfer, an Azusa Pacific University graduate, perhaps holding a slight edge because of her success at Santa Anita and Del Mar.
The ceremony begins at 5 pm and will be televised by TVG and Racetrack Television Network.
When: 5 pm Thursday
Where: Santa Anita.
What: Awards given out to horses and humans in 17 categories, including Horse of the Year.
HOY favorite: Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Knicks Go.
TV: TVG and Racetrack Television Network.