Imagine what it would be like if the Academy Awards carried on without a single moviegoer having even seen any of the Oscar-nominated films. Essentially, that was 2020 for the horse racing world, with choice few spectators able to watch their favorite Thoroughbreds compete live, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was anything but a “normal” season. The Triple Crown order was jumbled, with the Belmont Stakes running in June, followed by the Kentucky Derby in September and Preakness Stakes in October. Saratoga Race Course’s Travers Stakes made for an early-August Derby prep. And local hero Tiz the Law made an early run at greatness, nabbing the Belmont and Travers, before losing in the Derby to Authentic. The year in racing was capped on a crescendo in early November, when Authentic took home the W in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Tiz finished a disappointing sixth—and will likely be out of contention for an Eclipse Award.)
All of that winning has to add up to something. This January marks the 50th annual Eclipse Awards—basically, horse racing’s Oscars—and at it, more than a few equine (and human) heroes will reach “champion” status. Who has the best chance for Eclipse glory? Saratoga Living has handicapped all of our favorites.
Horse of the Year
1. Authentic: This 3-year-old son of Into Mischief made a lot of people happy this year—one of his ownership groups is MyRaceHorse Stable, which sold more than 5,300 micro-shares in the horse—by winning five graded stakes and finishing second in his other two races. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Authentic won September’s Derby and November’s BC Classic, making him the overwhelming favorite in this category. Earlier in the year, he also won the Grade 1 Haskell in New Jersey and the San Felipe Stakes and Sham Stakes in California.
2. Monomoy Girl
Champion Older Male
1. Improbable: This Bob Baffert–trained son of City Zip won three of his five starts this year and finished second in the other two. Improbable’s wins in the Whitney Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup and Awesome Again, and a second-place finish in the BC Classic, stamped him as the leader in the division.
2. Global Campaign
3. Maximum Security
Champion Older Female
1. Monomoy Girl: After being away from the races for 18 months, the 2018 champion 3-year-old filly returned to win all four of her starts, including Grade 1s in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and La Troienne Stakes. Monomoy Girl was one of the best comeback stories in racing in 2020, and she is expected to return to the track in 2021 for new owner Spendthrift Farm, which purchased her for $9.5 million following Breeders’ Cup weekend.
2. Midnight Bisou
Champion 3-Year-Old Male
1. Authentic (see above)
2. Tiz the Law
3. Honor A.P.
Champion 3-Year-Old Filly
1. Swiss Skydiver: This brilliant chestnut daughter of Daredevil won or placed in eight of 10 starts this year. She became the first filly since Rachel Alexandra in 2009 to win the Preakness Stakes and added wins in the Alabama Stakes, Santa Anita Oaks, Fantasy Stakes and Gulfstream Park Oaks. A true throwback campaign saw her race at nine different tracks in 2020 for trainer Ken McPeek.
Champion 2-Year-Old Male
1. Essential Quality: The early favorite for the 2021 Kentucky Derby broke his maiden at first asking at Churchill Downs in September, then followed it up with wins in the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland. Bred and owned by Godolphin and trained by Brad Cox, this son of Tapit has superstar potential.
2. Jackie’s Warrior
3. Fire At Will
Champion 2-Year-Old Filly
1. Vequist: This impressive daughter of champion Nyquist broke her maiden at Saratoga in the Spinaway Stakes and delivered a spectacular victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to distance herself from her peers. She should only get better next year.
3. Simply Ravishing
1. Irad Ortiz, Jr.: The winner of this Eclipse award each of the past two years is likely to make it three in a row. The leading rider at Saratoga (59 wins), at press time, Ortiz had 24 graded stakes wins and led all North American jockeys in wins (264) and earnings ($19.5 million). Ortiz won Breeders’ Cup races this year with Whitmore and Golden Pal.
2. Joel Rosario
3. John Velazquez
1. Brad Cox: The nod goes to Cox here after equaling Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella’s record of four wins at a single Breeders’ Cup. At press time, Cox ranked fourth nationally in both purse earnings ($17.6 million) and wins (188). He won 28 graded stakes this year, including seven Grade 1 events with five different horses. Cox trains Monomoy Girl and Essential Quality, both likely champions, too.
2. Steve Asmussen
3. Chad Brown
Other Notable Eclipse Predictions
Male Sprinter: Whitmore
Female Sprinter: Gamine
Male Turf Horse: Channel Maker
Female Turf Horse: Rushing Fall
Steeplechase Horse: Moscato
Apprentice Jockey: Charlie Marquez