It’s an honor to have a vote in the Eclipse Award categories but with it comes great responsibility to consider each candidate in each category and then vote according to their merit for this particular year. I try not to be swayed by what a horse or human connection achieved in years prior or by what I think their future potential is. For me it’s pretty straightforward: achievements in the year of voting at the highest levels of racing (Grade 1 competition).
That said, turf vs. dirt and sprint vs. route achievements are certainly subjective. As are instances in which 3 year olds beat older horses, even if it was not in Grade 1 competition. Or when a filly or mare beats the boys. I have taken all of these variables into consideration as I considered the Top 3 in each category but these mitigating factors still leave room for discussion and disagreement. My votes were placed after much consideration and deliberation (it actually took me about 3 hours).
Here are my votes—and my logic behind them. You may or may not agree and that’s ok. That’s why we vote—to achieve consensus and, hopefully, the best horses and humans win. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@donnabbrothers) or leave a comment here to discuss.
2 Year Old Male
Maxfield, Storm the Court, Four Wheel Drive
One of the toughest categories in this year’s Eclipse Awards. If we go strictly by wins in Grade 1 races then 8 two-year-old males qualify. But most of these horses are so lightly raced and most of the ones who have raced more than 2-3 times have been spotty at best. Recognizing that all of these factors leave much room for disagreement I decided on Maxfield in the #1 spot because he is an undefeated 2 for 2 and won both of his races impressively, including his win in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Storm the Court won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and while it was a field that saw Maxfield scratch before the race, Dennis’ Moment scratch himself at the start and Eight Rings scratching himself at the 1/4 pole, it was still a contentious field—and he won. Four Wheel Drive didn’t even win a Grade 1 and I put him into the 3rd spot because of his 3 for 3 record and, again, a Breeders’ Cup win. Yes, I realize that all of his wins were on turf. But I’m not going to punish him for it.
British Idiom, Bast, Sharing
British Idiom was an easy pick for the top spot with her 3 for 3 record, two Grade 1 wins, and a win sprinting (in her debut) and then two more around two turns, including her hard-earned victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Bastis a three time Grade 1 winner but finished 3rd, beaten two lengths by British Idiom, in the BC Juvenile Fillies. Sharingalso had a Breeders’ Cup win—her’s was on the turf—and she came a neck shy of having a perfect 4 for 4 season.
3 Year Old Male
Maximum Security , Omaha Beach, Code of Honor
Maximum Security was a pretty easy choice. Besides crossing the wire first in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, he won 3 Grade 1 races and his last two wins at the graded stakes level were against older horses. In spite of being a three year old, he looked like a man amongst boys in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in December. Omaha Beach is another horse who looked like a man against boys last out when he won the Grade 1 Malibu in the easiest fashion. It’s a shame we won’t get to see this horse run as a four or five year old since he looks like a horse with his best races still ahead of him. Code of Honor danced every dance and came away with a win in the prestigious Grade 1 Travers and a controversial decision in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
3 Year Old Filly
Covfefe, Guarana, Serengeti Empress
Covfefe gets my vote for the top spot given the status behind her two Grade 1 wins in 2019: the Test at Saratoga and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. She was well managed and well placed by trainer Brad Cox throughout 2019. I really wanted to put the Kentucky Oaks winner in the second spot but Serengeti Empress was pretty hit and miss even if her win in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks was a spectacular performance and a bit of training marvel by trainer Tom Amoss. At the end of the day, Guarana’s 2019 record was just more impressive with two Grade 1 wins and second place finish in the Grade 1 Cotillion Stakes.
Older Dirt Male
Vino Rosso, Mitole, McKinzie
A tough category because if you go strictly by Grade 1 wins then Mitole wins but, for me anyway, I think of “older dirt male” and I think over a route of ground and so I ended up with Vino Rosso on top who did cross the finish line first in three Grade 1’s in 2019, in spite of the fact that he only gets credit for 2 of those. His win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic was emphatic and raised him into a higher stratosphere than I held him in prior to that. Mitole still gets the nod over the somewhat unlucky McKinzie who really seems to have to have things his own way to perform his best.
Older Dirt Female
Midnight Bisou, Blue Prize, Come Dancing
Blue Prize’s 3 wins to round out the year made me fall in love with her but, in spite of the fact that she did beat Midnight Bisou in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the latter’s body of work for 2019 was simply more impressive than anyone else’s in the category. Midnight Bisou went 7 for 8 in 2019 with three Grade 1 wins and two wins each at the Grade 2 and Grade 3 levels. Impressive. I really wanted to include Elate in my Top 3. God, I love that mare. But she simply did not find her way to the winner’s circle at the Grade 1 level this year and so Come Dancing with her four wins (including the G1 Ballerina) in 2019 gets the nod.
Mitole, World of Trouble, Omaha Beach
Mitole was a lay down here. He won four Grade 1 races, including an impressive romp in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. I’m gonna miss this guy in 2020. World of Trouble went 4 for 4 with Grade 1 wins on both turf and dirt. And then there’s Omaha Beach… likely the most talented horse who will go without an Eclipse Award this year. Have I mentioned that I would love to see this horse race into his 4 and 5 year old years?
Covfefe, Come Dancing, Belvoir Bay
Another category where I believe Covfefe has the competition over a barrel. She won 5 of her 6 starts in 2019, which included three graded stakes wins, and the icing on the cake was her win against older fillies and mares in the Breeders’ Cup Fillies Sprint. Come Dancing was a pretty easy choice for the second spot with her 4 wins this year all in graded stakes completion including her romp in the G1 Ballerina Stakes. The third spot wasn’t an easy choice but Belvoir Baydid enough before the Breeders’ Cup to merit consideration and even though her Breeders’ Cup win was on the turf she did beat the boys. She definitely won the “feel good story” category of the year winning a Breeders’ Cup race after having gone missing for 3 days after the San Luis Rey fire in late 2017. She was found with burns all over her body and then, less than two years later, set the track on fire and won our hearts doing it.
Male Turf Horse
Bricks and Mortar, World of Trouble, Channel Maker
This was a fairly straight forward category—at least for the top two spots. Bricks and Mortar went 6 for 6 and World of Trouble was 4 for 4. After that—very subjective. There were 15 other horses in this category who won at least one Grade 1 race in 2019. But Channel Maker raced 8 times in 2019, won a G1 and was fervently knocking on the door in nearly every other start (save his fairly dismal performance in the Breeders’ Cup Turf). At the end of the day it was a toss up for the third spot and I gave it to Channel Maker because of his greater body of work through 2019, making his first start of the year in January and his eighth in November.
Female Turf Horse
Uni, Sistercharlie, Got Stormy
While this was a formidable group of horses, Uni was my top choice. She won two Grade 1 races, including a sound defeat of the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Sistercharlie did everything right—until the Breeders’ Cup—when she was handed a surprising defeat in the Filly & Mare Turf. Got Stormy managed two Grade 1 wins in 2019 and got within one and half lengths of Uni in the Breeders’ Cup Mile which was impressive for a four year old filly.
Horse of the Year
Bricks and Mortar, Mitole, Maximum Security
I suppose there are a few different ways you can go here but, at least for me, “Horse of the Year” typically goes to the horse who has been the most impressive going a route of ground on dirt. But we didn’t have anyone blow us away in this category this year and so the default is the horse who has accomplished the most and for me, that’s Bricks and Mortar. But it was a really tough decision because of how much I genuinely respect what Mitole did in 2019. This is another category that is highly subjective and, I suppose, will be widely debated with my top three choices all being highly accomplished in their respective divisions.
Winston C, Brain Power, Scorpiancer
In past years I have generally abstained from voting in the Steeplechase Horse category because I don’t know enough about these horses and the competition they’ve faced to have a respectable opinion. However, Winston C appears to be somewhat of a lock this year.
Klaravich Stables, Inc. and Lawrence, William H.; Klaravich Stables, Inc.; Calumet Farm
Generally speaking the win in the human categories goes to those with the highest earnings. My voting in these categories will mostly reflect that but I did put Klaravich Stables in the second position in spite of the fact that Klaravich was ranked 7th in terms of earnings. I only did this because of owner Seth Klarman’s continued and admirable pursuit of winning races at the highest level of racing and the financial commitment he’s purposed toward this endeavor. That said, it’s clear to me that any owner in the Top 25 on the earnings list has likely made less money than they’ve invested and are equally committed to winning at the highest levels of racing.
Calumet Farm; Strawbridge, George Jr.; Kenneth L. Ramsey & Sarah K. Ramsey
My votes simply reflect the earnings order here.
Ortiz, Jr., Irad; Ortiz, Jose; Castellano, Javier J
Same as above—earnings order. Especially impressive this year as Irad Ortiz, Jr. established a new single season earnings record for a jockey with purse earnings of $34,109,019.
Diaz, Angel I.; Kimura, Kazushi; Correa, Julio
My votes deviate here from strict earnings because I believe it is more important for an apprentice rider to gain experience and ride lots of horses and win as many races as possible before concerning themselves with earnings. So while Angel Diaz was ranked 13th in earnings, his 212 wins towered over the apprentice rider competition.
Brown, Chad; Asmussen, Steve; Pletcher, Todd
Again, votes based on earnings and another record mark established as trainer Chad Brown became the first trainer in history to surpass $30 million in earnings while winning nearly 27% of his starts for total earnings of $31,112,144 in 2019. The previous single season earnings record of $28,116,097 was set in 2007 by Todd Pletcher.
Donna is one of the most decorated female jockeys of all time. Now retired from race-riding, she is currently an award winning sports analyst and commentator for NBC, and the author of the book, “Inside Track: Insider’s Guide to Horse Racing”, which is now in its second printing. When she’s not on location, or in meetings, you can find her writing, reading, traveling and spending time with her husband Frank and her two dogs.