By Jay Privman
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – California Chrome proved as popular with Eclipse Award voters as he was with the general public, earning titles as both Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male at the 44th annual Eclipse Awards dinner Saturday night at Gulfstream Park.
California Chrome outpolled fellow Horse of the Year finalists Main Sequence and Bayern. California Chrome received 143 votes; Main Sequence, 53; Bayern, 36; Shared Belief, 12; Untapable, 11; Wise Dan, 6; Adelaide, 1; and Take Charge Brandi, 1. There were two voter abstentions.
The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which includes Equibase. There were 280 eligible voters, with 265 returning ballots.
California Chrome also defeated Bayern for champion male 3-year-old. Main Sequence won a pair of divisional titles as champion male turf horse and champion older male.
California Chrome, winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Santa Anita Derby, and Hollywood Derby, lost two of three head-to-head meetings against Bayern, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but his overall body of work was widely embraced by voters. In balloting for champion 3-year-old male, California Chrome defeated Bayern by a surprisingly large margin, 193-56. Shared Belief received 15 votes, and one voter abstained.
California Chrome won four Grade 1 races, equaling the most of any horse in the country last year, and he was the only horse to win Grade 1 races on both dirt and turf. He becomes the first California-bred to win Horse of the Year since Tiznow in 2000.
Main Sequence – who won all four of his races, all Grade 1, all on turf – was an expected easy winner as champion male turf horse and outpolled dirt specialist Palace Malice for champion older male, too, a double pulled off in 2012 and 2013 by Wise Dan. In both those years, Wise Dan also was voted Horse of the Year.
Main Sequence got 243 out of the 265 first-place votes for male turf horse. He defeated Palace Malice by 127-103 in balloting for champion older male, with three other horses splitting the other 35 votes in that category.
The only horse who was a unanimous selection for a divisional title was Untapable, winner of the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff, who received all 265 votes for champion 3-year-old filly.
Other equine divisional winners were American Pharoah (2-year-old male), Take Charge Brandi (2-year-old filly), Close Hatches (older female), Work All Week (male sprinter), Judy the Beauty (female sprinter), Dayatthespa (female turf horse), and Demonstrative (steeplechase horse).
American Pharoah was the narrowest individual winner, outpolling Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red by just 15 votes, 126-111. American Pharoah missed the Breeders’ Cup with an injury after beating Texas Red in the FrontRunner Stakes.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey won Eclipse Awards as both champion owner and champion breeder. Todd Pletcher won his record seventh Eclipse Award as champion trainer, and Javier Castellano was voted champion jockey for the second straight year. Drayden Van Dyke won the Eclipse Award for champion apprentice jockey.
In the human categories, it seemed a plurality of voters decided simply to reward the people who won the most money in those respective divisions. Neither the Ramseys nor Pletcher were associated with any horses who won divisional titles, though Pletcher-trained Palace Malice was second for champion older male.
By contrast, even though California Chrome and Main Sequence were the stars of the evening – and thus 2014 – they apparently did it without the help of their trainer, jockey, owner, or breeder.
Art Sherman, trainer of California Chrome, was third in voting for champion trainer with 45 votes, behind Pletcher (100) and Chad Brown (64), while Graham Motion, trainer of Main Sequence, finished fifth with 13 votes.
John Velazquez, who rode Main Sequence to his win in the Breeders’ Cup Turf and led all jockeys in Grade 1 victories with 13, was second with 34 votes to Castellano, who was a lopsided winner with 203 votes. Victor Espinoza, rider of California Chrome, was sixth with 4 votes. Espinoza also rode divisional champions American Pharoah and Take Charge Brandi, so he was associated with three Eclipse Award winners. Castellano, the regular rider for Dayatthespa, and Espinoza each won nine Grade 1 races.
The Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings Ltd, which bred and owns Main Sequence, could only manage to finish fourth in voting for both breeder and owner. Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, who own and bred California Chrome, finished sixth for owner and fifth for breeder.
Similarly, it seemed the Breeders’ Cup was the title-decider for voters in previously open categories like male sprinter, female sprinter, and female turf horse – with the winners of those respective Breeders’ Cup races all winning divisional titles by large margins – yet a win in the controversial Breeders’ Cup Classic could not get Bayern over the hump.
One of the gratifying aspects of the evening is the realization that Bayern, California Chrome, and Main Sequence all are remaining in training for 2015, so perhaps this debate will rage anew a year from now.
Also Saturday night, previously announced awards for media winners were presented, including Daily Racing Form’s Barbara Livingston for photography. Tom Durkin received the Eclipse Award of Merit, and Old Friends Farm, represented by founder Michael Blowen, received a Special Eclipse Award. Jose Arias, winner of last year’s Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, was honored as the handicapper of the year.