Eclipse Award ballots were due Tuesday. Finalists were announced Thursday. Five represent Maryland. Reluctantly, I acknowledge not voting for any of them.
My selections follow. I invite you to let me know yours, and I'll include them in a future column. (See box.)
Clearly the best, Silverbulletday won six of seven, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Finalists: Excellent Meeting, Silverbulletday.
2-year-old colt or gelding
Answer Lively may not be the most talented, but in a year of no standouts he got my vote for winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He won four of seven races. Exploit was perfect in four starts, but only two were graded stakes and neither was Grade I.
Finalists: Answer Lively, Exploit, Wordly Manner.
Favoring perfection, I selected Jersey Girl, winner of all seven starts including three Grade Is. Because of a leg fracture she didn't race after Aug. 1, and only one of her races was farther than one mile.
But in that one she defeated Banshee Breeze, my close second. Banshee Breeze raced from February to November, winning three Grade Is and falling a nose short of winning the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Finalists: Banshee Breeze, Jersey Girl.
3-year-old colt or gelding
After Coronado's Quest won the Travers in August, he pulled even with Real Quiet for the Eclipse. Even after finishing fifth in the Woodward and Breeders' Cup Classic, he had only to win the Cigar Mile, a race at his best distance on his favorite racetrack, to secure my vote. He finished a deflating fourth. Sadly, I could not vote for the intriguing colt, owned in the majority by Stuart S. Janney III, who lives in Butler.
I voted for Real Quiet, even though he didn't race after June 6 and won only two races, but the right two: the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. In his bid to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, he suffered a crushing nose defeat in the Belmont before more than 80,000 spectators.
Finalists: Coronado's Quest, Real Quiet, Victory Gallop.
Even though Reraise won the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Kelly Kip earned my vote with his breathtaking victory July 18 in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park. He shattered the stakes record after breaking track records earlier in the year at Finger Lakes and Aqueduct. He was, simply, the fastest horse.
Finalists: Affirmed Success, Kelly Kip, Reraise.
A winner of six of seven for the California trainer Neil Drysdale, Fiji clinched my vote with her two-length victory Nov. 8 in the Grade I Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Finalists: Fiji, Maxzene, Memories of Silver.
My heart screamed Da Hoss, who won the Breeders' Cup Mile after a two-year layoff and a sensational training feat by Michael Dickinson, who labors at his Tapeta Farm in North East. But my mind said Buck's Boy, who won six races including the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Finalists: Buck's Boy, Da Hoss, Royal Anthem.
Although I adored Sharp Cat's four-for-four season, I voted for Escena, who raced nine times, finishing first or second all but once. She won three Grade Is, including the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Owned by Highlandtown native Carolyn Hine, Skip Away raced from February to November, winning his first seven races in a row, five of which were Grade I. So what if he lost his last two? He was everything an Eclipse-award winner should be: Fast, consistent, durable and much-loved.
Horse of the Year
Awesome Again won six of six, but as Skip Away's trainer Sonny Hine said: "You can't play JV and be champion." Until the Breeders' Cup Classic, Awesome Again avoided the heavy hitters.
Challenging all comers, Hine announced Skip Away's schedule at the beginning of the year. The powerful gray performed coast-to-coast at seven tracks. If not for Cigar in 1996 and Favorite Trick in 1997, this could have been Skip Away's third Horse of the Year award. He got my vote, with enthusiasm.
A resident of Monkton, Jack Fisher trained Saluter during his three-for-three season and rode him in two of the races. But Flat Top's three victories came in a Grade II stakes, the Grade I Grand National and the $100,000 Colonial Cup at Camden. Flat Top was my choice.
Owner and trainer
I voted for Cheech and Chong: Mike Pegram and Bob Baffert. They laughed their way through victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Real Quiet, and then managed to keep laughing -- and keep those around them smiling -- after Real Quiet's heartbreaking defeat in the Belmont.
Real Quiet will probably win an Eclipse, and the Pegram-owned and Baffert-trained Silverbulletday surely will. The leading money-earning trainer, Baffert also conditions Silver Charm, who won the Dubai World Cup and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic; Excellent Meeting, who finished second to Silverbulletday in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies; and Exploit, the early 1999 Kentucky Derby favorite based on his four-for-four showing in 1998.
I wanted badly to vote for Dickinson as trainer for his sensational work with Da Hoss and Cetewayo. But I decided, finally, that even those accomplishments could not match Baffert's, which spanned the globe.
Finalists (owner): Beverly and Bob Lewis, Mike Pegram, Frank Stronach.
Finalists (trainer): Bob Baffert, Patrick Byrne, Michael Dickinson.
This was my most agonizing decision. Jerry Bailey is probably the best jockey, but he has won three straight Eclipse awards. Edgar Prado is the winningest, but he rides mostly in Maryland against second-tier competition. I just hope he keeps on winning. I will surely vote for him one year.
For 1998, however, I chose Gary Stevens, who has never won an Eclipse despite his election last year into racing's Hall of Fame. The top money-earning jockey, he won the Dubai World Cup with Silver Charm, Breeders' Cup races with Silverbulletday and Escena, and the Belmont with Victory Gallop.
Riding in New York against top competition, Shaun Bridgmohan won far more races and earned far more money than any other apprentice.
In past years winners of Eclipse awards, horse racing's highest honor, were announced before the awards dinner, except for Horse of the Year, which was withheld until then in hopes of creating some drama. This year, under the auspices for the first time of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, all winners will be announced at the dinner Feb. 16 in Bal Harbour, Fla.
Tom Keyser wants to hear from you, especially your selections differing from his and for Horse of the Year. Contact him three ways, but please spell your name and leave a number where he can contact you. Call 410-332-6186. Write to Tom Keyser, The Baltimore Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore, MD, 21278-0001. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pub Date: 1/09/99