We're two days from the Eclipse Awards banquet, and we still don't know the winners. For the first time, they won't be announced until Tuesday's dinner in Florida.
In the past, all but Horse of the Year were announced well in advance so that the banquet was devoid of suspense. This year, you won't know until Tuesday night (or Wednesday morning when you pick up The Sun) how your picks matched up with those of the voters -- turf writers, racing secretaries and some employees of the Daily Racing Form.
In a column last month, I announced my selections and invited you to send me yours, especially those differing from mine. The one you most disagreed with was the jockey. I selected Gary Stevens. Most of you chose Edgar Prado, the winningest jockey in the country the past two years and Maryland's riding star day in and day out.
"He consistently brings home average horses to win," said Dennis Milkowski, an electrician from Baltimore. "Even if he's on a $5,000 claimer, he consistently puts the horse in position to win."
Milkowski also differed with me in two other categories. I selected Jersey Girl as top 3-year-old filly for her unbeaten season. Milkow-ski chose Banshee Breeze for her success against older horses. Also, I picked Kelly Kip as top sprinter; he picked Reraise, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
"I don't think Kelly Kip's in the same class as Reraise," Milkowski said. "That was quite a field Re-raise beat in the Breeders' Cup."
Glenn E. Bushel, a lawyer from Baltimore, selected Prado because "if you have a spectacular season, whether you're Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire, then that's your year.
"I recognize that Prado doesn't race at the top level all year. But he won twice as many races as Stevens. He shows up every day, he's an admirable guy and a role model. I really don't like the notion that you're only eligible if you race in Grade I's and are based in California or New York."
Chris Bricker, an engineer from Catonsville who owns three horses in Country Life Farm partnerships, also favored Prado.
"Making the most money isn't everything or even the most important thing," Bricker said. "And [Jerry] Bailey and Stevens can't help but be high-dollar earners [or should be ashamed if they aren't] given the purse money they run for. Consistency to me is more important. Edgar can make a winner out of a mediocre horse."
Joe Warren, a manufacturing operator at Northrop Grumman, also chose Prado "because you can't win that many races without being a good jockey."
Three readers took exception to my picking Escena as top older female. Jerry Carton, Robert Lee and Bushel chose Sharp Cat. She was 4-for-4 on the eve of the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but an ailment forced her to miss the race.
"I believe Sharp Cat earned the title based on not just a perfect but also a scintillating campaign," said Carton, an educator from Pikesville. "I am confident she would have silenced all doubters had she been able to run in the Distaff."
Lee minimized Escena's victory in the Distaff because as the lone pacesetter she had everything her way and should have been the day's best bet. Sharp Cat would have been even money or odds-on had she started, he said.
"I think to take the award away from her just because of an injury is very unfair," Lee said.
Everyone agreed that Real Quiet was the top 3-year-old male, although Chris Laughman of Littlestown, Pa., said that if it weren't for the explosive temperament of Coronado's Quest early in the year, he "could have been a threat not only to Real Quiet but also maybe to Skip Away for Horse of the Year."
Carton said Real Quiet, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was the obvious choice.
"I have consistently been curious about the drumbeat for Coronado's Quest," Carton said. "The Travers, Haskell, Dwyer, Wood Memorial and Riva Ridge [won by Coronado's Quest] still cannot equal dual classic victories and a nose shy of immortality."
Lydia A. Williams, an equine photographer, reluctantly favored Real Quiet as top 3-year-old male.
"I have a difficult time not choosing Victory Gallop," Williams said. "He ran all year, and his worst finish [Breeders' Cup Classic] beats most horses' best race. I picked Real Quiet too, even though I'm not fond of rewarding horses for quitting in June."
Williams disagreed with my choice of Bob Baffert as outstanding trainer. She preferred Michael Dickinson, who prepared Da Hoss for victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile with just one race in two years and transformed Cetewayo from a claimer into a Grade I winner.
"Baffert won all the right races," Williams said, "but Dickinson did more with less."
Kathy Dibben, a Maryland trainer, chose Baffert because Dickinson and Patrick Byrne, the other finalists, earned consideration for pointing horses to specific races rather than running in the best races all year.
"Having the luxury of being able to train up to a particular race, even if it takes all year, is a piece of cake compared to keeping a horse in top form the entire year," Dibben said. "In my mind, and my experience, there is no comparison."
All respondents agreed that Skip Away should be Horse of the Year, although Carton played devil's advocate and said about Awesome Again: "If an undefeated season as a 2-year-old was enough to make Favorite Trick Horse of the Year in 1997, could it not be argued that the same holds true for Awesome Again in 1998? He did, after, all not only defeat Skip Away in the Classic, but he also beat Silver Charm twice and won a Grade I at Saratoga."
Laughman said Skip Away is "one of the all-time greatest." Bricker said after Skip Away wins, "hopefully Carolyn and Sonny Hine can stop whining then."
But the most poignant comment came from Dibben, who spoke for true horse fans when she said: "Skip Away brought tears to my eyes every time he ran."
2-year-old filly -- Excellent Meeting, Silverbulletday; 2-year-old male -- Answer Lively, Exploit, Worldly Manner; 3-year-old filly -- Banshee Breeze, Jersey Girl; 3-year-old male -- Coronado's Quest, Real Quiet, Victory Gallop; Sprinter -- Affirmed Success, Kelly Kip, Reraise; Turf female -- Fiji, Maxzene, Memories of Silver; Turf male -- Buck's Boy, Da Hoss, Royal Anthem; Older female -- Escena, Mossflower, Sharp Cat; Older male and Horse of the Year -- Awesome Again, Silver Charm, Skip Away; Steeplechase -- Flat Top, Hokan, Saluter; Owner -- Beverly and Bob Lewis, Mike Pegram, Frank Stronach; Trainer -- Bob Baffert, Patrick Byrne, Michael Dickinson; Jockey -- Jerry Bailey, Edgar Prado, Gary Stevens; Apprentice jockey -- Jeremy Beasley, Shaun Bridgmohan, J.C. Gonzalez.
Ellen and Herb Moelis' Thoroughbred Charities of America auction last weekend at their CandyLand Farm in Middletown, Del., was successful -- "beyond my wildest dreams," Herb Moelis said.
The auction of stallion seasons, equine memorabilia and art raised slightly more than $700,000 for 25 equine organizations.
Pub Date: 2/14/99