Southern California racing has dominated the world stage for the past three years by being the home of the Eclipse Award winning horse of the year. That will change this year.
The final three nominees for the 2017 Eclipse awards were announced on Friday and even though one of the three finalists for the top honor—Arrogate--was housed at Santa Anita, the winner will almost assuredly be Gun Runner, from the East Coast-based Steve Asmussen barn.
Los Alamitos-based California Chrome won the award for 2014 and 2016. Triple Crown champion American Pharoah won for 2015.
Southern California is well represented for the Eclipse Awards with 17 of the 42 appropriate spots (excluding steeplechase, owner and breeder) being a horse based locally while racing. Arrogate and Unique Bella were nominated in two categories. The single nominees are: Abel Tasman, Battle of Midway, Bolt D’Oro, Collected, Moonshine Memories, Roy H, Solomini, Songbird, Stellar Wind and West Coast.
Evin Roman is almost a lock to win apprentice jockey, Mike Smith is nominated for jockey and Bob Baffert for trainer.
Southern California posted no nominees in the two turf categories, underscoring how far the region has to go to build a robust turf program. Santa Anita chief executive Tim Ritvo has increased the number of grass races, because bettors like them and the full fields they usually bring.
The most interesting category might be 2-year-old male, which leads to the Kentucky Derby run up. Bolt D’Oro was dominating through his first three races but then finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after being parked outside most of the race. His competition is Good Magic, who broke his maiden in his third start by winning the BC Juvenile. The winner of the Juvenile traditionally wins the Eclipse.
The winners will be announced on Jan. 25, at Gulfstream, two days before the $16 million Pegasus World Cup, the richest race in the world.
Here are the finalists in each category.
2-year-old male: Bolt D’Oro, Good Magic, Solomini.
2-year-old filly: Caledonia Road, Moonshine Memories, Rushing Fall.
3-year-old male: Always Dreaming, Battle Of Midway, West Coast.
3-year-old filly: Abel Tasman, Elate, Unique Bella.
Older dirt male: Arrogate, Collected, Gun Runner.
Older dirt female: Forever Unbridled, Songbird, Stellar Wind.
Male sprinter: Imperial Hint, Mind Your Biscuits, Roy H.
Female sprinter: Bar Of Gold, Paulassilverlining, Unique Bella.
Male turf horse: Beach Patrol, Talismanic, World Approval.
Female turf horse: Lady Eli, Off Limits, Wuhedia.
Steeplechase horse: All The Way Jose, Mr. Hot Stuff, Scorpiancer.
Owner: Godolphin Racing, Juddmonte Farms, Winchell Thoroughbreds & Three Chimneys Farm
Breeder: Besilu Stables, Clearsky Farms, WinStar Farm.
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith.
Apprentice Jockey: Katie Lawson, Hector Diaz, Jr., Evin Roman.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown.
Trainer Bob Baffert has used the Los Alamitos Futurity as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby. He’s won it the last four years and in two of those years the winner (Dortmund and Mor Spirit) has gone on to Louisville. The third horse was Mastery, who retired before the Derby after an injury suffered in winning the San Felipe.
Last month Baffert won the race with two horses, well sort of. Solomini crossed the finish line first but was disqualified to third for interference giving the win to stablemate McKinzie.
McKinzie is a sentimental favorite on the local racing scene because he is named after longtime Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, who died last year. And it may be more than local as he was the third-favorite in the first Kentucky Derby future book at 12-1 behind Bolt D’Oro and Good Magic.
Saturday, the undefeated (on paper) two-time starter will go in the Garde 3 $100,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. He’s the 3-5 morning line favorite. It’s the fifth race about 2:30 p.m.
McKinzie tired in the stretch of the Los Al race, not unusual for a second-time starter going two turns for the first time. The Sham cuts him back to a mile. Mike Smith remains the jockey.
Also on the card, is the Grade 2 $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on the turf. It’s the seventh race about 3:30 p.m. The favorite is Itsinthepost at 3-1. He won three of nine races last year, all graded stakes, for trainer Jeff Mullins and jockey Tyler Baze.
At 7-2 is Isotherm, for Phil D’Amato and Flavien Prat. He hasn’t raced since last year’s Santa Anita Handicap in March. There is also He Will, for Jerry Hollendorfer and Mike Smith, as the 4-1 third choice. This horse usually finishes near the front but doesn’t have the stakes experience of the other two.
Santa Anita stats
Santa Anita is off to a good start so far with a 16% increase in all-source handle and a 9% on-track handle. The on-track handle would seem to be more significant as the off-track may have been higher because of the cancellation of racing opportunities on the East Coast because of weather. The track also reports an average field size of 9.36 horses a race.