My first high-pressure assignment of the New Year: Eclipse Award voting. While it is both an honor and a privilege to have a vote, it’s important to me to get it right. I take none of these categories lightly as an Eclipse Award win (or loss) can mean the world to the people involved.
While I try not to be swayed by what a horse or human connection achieved in years prior or by my fondness for the individual, I’m not sure that I was 100% unbiased this year in one or more of these categories. For the most part my selection criteria is 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 but it’s ok if you don’t agree with me. That’s why we vote—to achieve consensus. Here are my votes—and my logic behind them. Feel free to message me on Twitter (@donnabbrothers) or leave a comment here to discuss.
2 YEAR OLD MALE
ESSENTIAL QUALITY, JACKIE’S WARRIOR, FIRE AT WILL
Top spot was a pretty easy decision for me this year as ESSENTIAL QUALITY was 3 for 3 with two grade one wins, including a tenacious effort in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. JACKIE’S WARRIOR was ultra impressive all year but may’ve run into innate distance limitations when stretching out to two turns for the first time in the Juvenile. FIRE AT WILL won on dirt (well, slop) and turf, including the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
2 YEAR OLD FILLY
VEQUIST, DAYOUTOFTHEOFFICE, AUNT PEARL (IRE)
Choosing between VEQUIST and DAYOUTOFTHEOFFICE just came down to VEQUIST winning two grade ones, including an impressive performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (defeating DAYOUTOFTHEOFFICE by 2 lengths). AUNT PEARL was jaw-droppingly impressive this year going 3 for 3 but all of her wins were on turf and I admittedly have a little bit of a bias to dirt racing.
3 YEAR OLD MALE
AUTHENTIC, TIZ THE LAW, NADAL
What a long year it was for these 3 year olds! There is probably no category of horses that were impacted by the COVID-adjusted racing schedule more profoundly than this group. But, at the end of the day, AUTHENTIC was the cream that rose to the top. Full disclosure: my husband, Frank Brothers, is bloodstock agent for Starlight Racing and was part of the selection team that bought AUTHENTIC for this partnership at the Keeneland September Sale in 2018. However, just to show that I clearly am not smart enough to be biased by this, I did not pick AUTHENTIC to with the Kentucky Derby on our NBC Sports broadcast. I went with TIZ THE LAW. I did not make this same mistake for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Or here.
3 YEAR OLD FILLY
SWISS SKYDIVER, GAMINE, SHEDARESTHEDEVIL
SWISS SKYDIVER’s 2020 record: 10 starts with 5 wins, 2 seconds, 1 third. Five graded stakes wins over five different tracks, including a win against the males of her generation in the G1 Preakness Stakes—defeating my Top 3 year old male choice, AUTHENTIC. Pretty easy choice. All of that said, GAMINE was such an impressive winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint that I wavered. Ultimately, they were both impressive in doing what they did but SWISS SKYDIVER wins War Horse of the year—and Champion 3 Year Old Filly—for me. SHEDARESTHEDEVIL was the icing on the cake that got sire Daredevil (sire of SWISS SKYDIVER too) a first class ticket from Turkey back to Kentucky.
OLDER DIRT MALE
IMPROBABLE, VEKOMA, MAXIMUM SECURITY
It should first be said that I have a personal bias toward two-turn horses versus sprinters—when voting in this category. My favorite win from an older dirt male this year came from WHITMORE when taking the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at age 7. We won’t get much “older” than that in this category but this is not really about your favorite “old” horse and more relative to the older male who most impressed you on dirt throughout the year. For me, that was IMPROBABLE. He came into the Breeders’ Cup Classic with 3 grade one wins on the year and posted a respectable second place finish in the Classic. Poor VEKOMA. He did nothing wrong this year, other than spiking a fever just before Breeders’ Cup. MAXIMUM SECURITY… what can I say? Impressive horse whose race record will forever be called into question.
OLDER DIRT FEMALE
MONOMOY GIRL, SERENGETI EMPRESS, GUARANA
If we disagree on the Top spot here then we think nothing alike and we can’t be friends. Excited we’ll get to see more of MONOMOY GIRL at age 6, especially as impressive as she was at age 5. SERENGETI EMPRESS is another War Horse. She may not win every time but she tries every time (ok, unless she doesn’t make the lead—admittedly, she doesn’t try much then). GUARANA just didn’t get much of a chance to run this year. MALE SPRINTER WHITMORE, CHARLATAN, VEKOMA This is a category in which I’m not sure I was 100% unbiased. I love WHITMORE. I have loved him for a very long time and what he did in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was one of the few races in 2020 that sent chills down my spine and brought a tear of reverence to my eye. He gets my top vote but if you disagree we can still be friends. CHARLATAN—wow, his win in the G1 Malibu stakes was impressive enough for me to consider him for the top spot here. Ultimately, my heart strings won. And, again, poor VEKOMA. He did nothing wrong this year, other than spiking a fever just before Breeders’ Cup.
WHITMORE, CHARLATAN, VEKOMA
This is a category in which I’m not sure I was 100% unbiased. I love WHITMORE. I have loved him for a very long time and what he did in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was one of the few races in 2020 that sent chills down my spine and brought a tear of reverence to my eye. He gets my top vote but if you disagree we can still be friends. CHARLATAN—wow, his win in the G1 Malibu stakes was impressive enough for me to consider him for the top spot here. Ultimately, my heart strings won. And, again, poor VEKOMA. He did nothing wrong this year, other than spiking a fever just before Breeders’ Cup.
GAMINE, SERENGETI EMPRESS, BELL’S THE ONE
With three grade one wins on the year, including the win in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, GAMINE was a pretty easy choice for me. That said, SERENGETI EMPRESS’s performance in the Filly & Mare Sprint was admirable. She was a 4 year old filly making her seventh start of the year and held on for second after setting fractions of :21.3 (first ¼) and :44.1 for the ½ mile. BELL’S THE ONE finished third to these two in the Filly & Mare Sprint but had a strong year with two graded stakes wins.
MALE TURF HORSE
CHANNEL MAKER, ZULU ALPHA, ORDER OF AUSTRALIA (IRE)
If this was just OLDER TURF HORSE rather than MALE Turf Horse I could’ve easily gone for a couple of my FEMALE TURF HORSE selections but it’s not. It is MALE Turf Horse and so the nod goes to CHANNEL MAKER. The girls from Europe beat up on him in the Breeders’ Cup Turf but he had won two consecutive grade ones coming into the race and was the best of the rest in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. 7-year-old ZULU ALPHA was unlucky to miss the Breeders’ Cup due to a minor injury after earning three graded stakes wins in 2020, one of them a G1 win in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Turf. ORDER OF AUSTRALIA (Ire) only won one G1 this year but it was the right one: the Breeders’ Cup Mile. And he did it from the 14 post.
FEMALE TURF HORSE
MAGICAL (IRE), TARNAWA (IRE), AUDARYA (FR)
Full disclosure, I’m also biased toward North American/US Racing form and accomplishments which illustrates just how impressed I was with the Top 3 choices here. All three of them had the requisite one start in North America (required for consideration for an Eclipse Award) and no more than that. However, MAGICAL racked up three G1 wins before coming to the Breeders’ Cup and two of those wins were against male competition. She came to the Breeders’ Cup off just 21 days rest from the Qipco Champion Stakes (G1) and, of course, shipped from Europe. She was a bit unlucky not to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf but take nothing from the winner, TARNAWA who is my selection for the second spot here. My top vote could’ve easily gone to TARNAWA here too and it was a tough call. Both ladies won three grade one stakes on the year but two of MAGICAL’s were against the boys and TARNAWA only beat the boys once in 2020. AUDARYA earned the third spot with her tenacious win in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.
HORSE OF THE YEAR
AUTHENTIC, IMPROBABLE, TIZ THE LAW
Some will disagree with me but this simply was not a hard choice for me. In fact, you can pretty much bet that any year that the Kentucky Derby winner comes back to win the Breeders Cup Classic against older horses I’m going to vote them Horse of the Year. AUTHENTIC for me. IMPROBABLE’s three G1 wins and 2nd place finish in the Classic earned him the second spot. TIZ THE LAW, I’m gonna miss you. The Breeders’ Cup Classic didn’t go so well for you but you sure made me love you with your other performances and your sheer class.
MOSCATO (GB), RASHAAN (IRE), SNAP DECISION
No bias in voting here since I honestly don’t follow Steeplechase Racing. However, their respective accomplishments made the voting pretty straightforward and there were only four horses from which to choose.
1st – Spendthrift Farm LLC, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC and Starlight Racing; 2nd – Godolphin, LLC; 3rd – Klaravich Stables, Inc.
Again, I do have a bias here in that my husband is bloodstock agent for Starlight Racing and I do a little work for them too. Plus, Jack & Laurie Wolf are just really, really nice people! However, I would’ve put this group in the top spot anyway simply because of their accomplishments with AUTHENTIC. All the same, his 3 wins on the year did propel this group to the leading owner position with his $7,170,000 in earnings so for voters who go strictly by earnings, they will be a top pick for many. In the other two positions I did just that: placement based on earnings.
1st – Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds, LLC; 2nd – Godolphin; 3rd – WinStar Farm, LLC
In the category of Breeder I did not vote strictly on earnings. Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds was the mastermind that decided upon the mating that produced AUTHENTIC and so from only 78 starters this year his $8,628,034 ($7.1 million earned by AUTHENTIC) prove that it only takes one really good mating to achieve great things. Godolphin has supported horse racing in Europe, the United States and other countries for years and they had a very good year in 2020 in the U.S. Case in point, only $1.3 million of their $7 million in earnings this year is attributable to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, ESSENTIAL QUALITY. WinStar Farm also achieved great things from relatively small numbers, earning $9.2 million from 210 starters.
1st – John Velazquez; 2nd – Irad Ortiz, Jr.; 3rd – Joel Rosario
This is another category that I typically vote on based on earnings but I deviated from my modus operandi owing to a couple of Hall of Fame rides by jockey John Velazquez. The first one: his ride on AUTHENTIC in the Kentucky Derby. While this was his first time to ride him (ever!) he sent him away from the starting gate with the perfect amount of encouragement and then, after breaking from the #15 post position (he was #18 but there were three scratches) got him into the first turn in beautiful shape. The give and take that he did with this horse was remarkable and the way he shot away from TIZ THE LAW at just the right time made the difference between winning and losing. Same with GAMINE in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. The way he forced SERENGETI EMPRESS to go really fast if she wanted the lead then gave his filly a breather before going back after the Empress, a phenomenal Hall of Fame ride. And then the Breeders’ Cup Classic. This race, this ride, sealed the deal for me. All of that said, Irad Ortiz, Jr. will win because most people vote straight earnings and he probably deserves it. Joel Rosario was third in earnings this year.
1st – Alexander Crispin; 2nd – Yarmarie L. Correa; 3rd – Luis Cardenas
I almost always vote this category differently than most because for apprentice riders I value races won (experience) over money earned (reward). However, this year I had to split the difference. Apprentice rider Alexander Crispin was second in both earnings and races won, winning just 14 fewer races than Correa, yet grossing $442,640 more in purse earnings so he took the top spot for me. However, I am impressed with what Yarmarie Correa has accomplished this year and, truth be told, I’ll be rooting for her to win the Eclipse Award. Luis Cardenas led the apprentice standings in money earned but his 41 races won doesn’t even put him in the Top 10 of races won by an apprentice.
1st – Steve Asmussen; 2nd – Brad Cox; 3rd – Bob Baffert
Bob Baffert may’ve won most of the right races but Asmussen led the nation in both wins and earnings in 2020. Asmussen: 422 wins; Cox: 216; Baffert: 94. Meanwhile, Brad Cox and Bob Baffert were second and third, respectively, in earnings. This was a pretty easy decision for me.
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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.
Yes I understand and I won’t name the animal rights extremists groups for reasons why like you said. I just keep hearing them everyday. The Risen Star was good race with Mandaloun winning the race. I still love and support horse racing no matter what extremist group says. I agree with you and Amy Hoffer horse racing isn’t perfect and we can and must do more reforms to protect the horses.and we are in vehement disagreement with the activists.
Thanks for understanding, Mathew. And, yes, Mandaloun managed to turn the tables on the top 2 finishers in the Lecomte with the addition of blinkers. Should be interesting to watch them all progress (or, sometimes, regress) from here.
Like you said the Kentucky Derby preps are just heating up I saw the Withers stakes from Aqueduct Risk taking trained by Chad Brown won the race with jockey Eric Cancel. and in the Sam F. Davis Bill Mott’s horse Candy Man Rocket with jockey Junior Alvarado. The Risen Star stakes from the Fair Grounds Race Course and El Camino Real Derby from Golden Gate Fields are next. Also did you heard about Pennsylvania governor’s plan to take $600 millions dollars from the state’s horse racing industry for student debt I don’t agree with this.
Yes, great Derby preps over the weekend and many more on the horizon! I don’t even need to watch anymore, I can just wait for your messages! But, Mathew, if you can ever gain access to your email that may be a better way to communicate since most of your messages have nothing to do with the article under which you’re commenting. I always love talking horses but the comments section is not the ideal space for that. Do you think you can access your email? And then just email me at email@example.com?
Great Derby prep today at the Fair Grounds, did you see it? Won by Mandaloun (trained by Brad Cox) wearing blinkers for the first time. Maxfield was also super impressive winning the Mineshaft stakes. Just an FYI, I’m not ever going to post any of the comments (yours or others) that name the animal rights extremist groups by name. Yes, Amy Hoffer and I spoke our minds in the articles that we wrote and published here but the less energy and attention that I/we/you can give them, the better. I hope you understand.
I saw the derby preps races risk taking win the withers stakes from Aqueduct and is likely heading to the wood memorial stakes on April 3. Candy Man Rocket won the Sam F.Davis from Tampa Bay Downs and maybe we could see him in the Tampa Bay Derby. Also did you heard about Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf using funds from the racing industry in the state for student dept that is absolutely going to destroy the industry.
I agree. What they’re trying to do in PA could be the nail in the coffin or horse racing in that state.
Hello Donna Brothers you have not said anything on Twitter are you doing okay. I heard what is happening about the future of Kentucky’s thoroughbred racing industry because the Supreme Court pulled them out and bill to protect it need to be passed. Donna have you heard about Peta doing a investigation on Miss Eau de Vie at Turfway Park and they were concerned when they learned pavement chucks were accident mixed in the Tapeta surface due to human error. I don’t like the activist calling people in the industry horse killers or abusers and saying horses are forced to race on the track those stuff they say is not true at all.
Hi Mathew, and thanks for your concern! I’m good–just taking a ski vacation in Colorado. And when I ski, that’s pretty much all I do. I did, however, check-in on Twitter today and check my website. Thanks for all of the posts! I cannot possibly answer them all but thank you! And, I do read industry news every day, even when I’m off skiing so, yes, I’ve read about Turfway, etc. We’ll see what shakes out. But with you around I really don’t need to read the news–you keep me posted!
Hello Donna Brothers the thoroughbred safety coalition is adding four reforms to list of goals including a ban on 48 hour medication to the platform and The changes are going to help protect both the horses and the future of the sport. I saw Medina Spirt won the Robert B.Lewis in a three way horse photo Bob Baffet says the performance reminds him a little bit of Sliver Charm. The Withers and Sam F.Davis From Tampa Bay Downs and Aqueduct are next.
Yes, the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition has been working diligently behind the scenes to make horse racing safer for everyone involved!
The Robert B.Lewis was dueling when Medina Spirit set the pace and the three way photo. Holding off Hot Rod Charlie and Roman Centurian. The race was thrilling watching it on tv. Did you see the race to. and also Hi
Yes, great race!!!
Hi Donna Brothers have you heard about New York State and the gaming commission approving Vet techs at racetracks. They are also considering options about the whip rules. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr has won the eclipse award again and I remember he and his brother were one of the people I got a picture with at Saratoga in the summer of 2019 before my 14th birthday. I am watching the preps races for Kentucky oaks and derby 147th. You are of my favorite horse racing analysts.
Yes, I think this is good news for horse owners in New York as it will make it a bit more affordable to do necessary vet care. Sort of like people using a nurse practitioner rather than the full M.D. The Ortiz brothers are pretty amazing. They continue to love the game and the horses and no one works harder than they do! Great preps today! Shug’s horse was impressive. Looking forward to the Robert B. Lewis too!
Great analysis, as always! I’m biased towards Authentic as well…bought a share in June when he was barely on the radar! Horse racing has been my sanity salvation in 2020. Thank you for your contributions to the sport!
I love to hear that, David! Both about buying into Authentic (and especially early on!) and how horse racing has helped you through these challenging times. It’s been my salvation my whole life! Thanks for your kind words too.
Did you heard about Churchill Downs refusing to replace the dirt track with synthetic and they say that shareholders should not have no say in a such a ordinary business. I still believe the founder of Horse Racing Wrongs wants to sterilize racehorses to extinction and make the planet deviod for thoroughbreds, Quarterhorses,Standardbreds and everything in between. I still don’t trust them. And also Knicks Go won the pegasus World Cup dirt invitational and Colonial Liam won the pegasus turf.
Yes, of course I’ve heard about Churchill Downs and the synthetic track discussion. What is often left out of these discussions is that soft tissue injuries are usually higher on synthetic tracks than on dirt tracks so Churchill Downs has many unpulished pros and cons to weigh. Every track deals with a different climate and circumstance than a track even 100 miles from them and only that track’s superintendent knows what is best for their climate and their unique conditions.
Thanks Donna for your willingness to share your Eclipse votes and the rationale behind them. Your explanations provide a great high-level review of Thoroughbred Racing in 2020. Looking forward to your next post!
Chanda, thanks for taking the time to read the piece and for the kind words!
Namaste to you as well,
Hello Donna Brothers I am excited for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont stakes and the Breeders’s cup world championships. I know you told me before that there will always be people against horse racing and you guys have been hoping for the safety and integrity act. Yes animals should be treated humanely but horses in racing are 100% taken care of. I dislike Ellen Erickson, Horse racing Wrongs founder and owner Patrick Battuello, senior Vice President of People For The Electrical Treatment Of Animals or Peta Kathy Guillermo and other animal activists . I am sorry I been replying so much it is because of the animal extremists have been pick on you guys saying there’s not an enough improvements. I bet other equine sports and disciplines have come under fire as well. I don’t like or trust the mainstream media and the animal activists and I never will. Thank you and Amy Hoffer so much for exposing hypocrisy from Peta and Horse Racing Wrongs. No matter what happens I would still love ,watch and support horse racing ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️🏇🏇🏇🏇🏇🏇🐴 and I absolutely love both horses and horse racing.
Thanks for your support and obvious love of horse racing. I cannot post all of your comments because, if I did, you will have written more than I have on this website!
Be well and stay well,
I can’t wait for the Eclipse Awards to watch it on tv. Tiz the law was a good horse and I miss him racing after he retire due to a injury during a workout for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park hopefully 🙏 he has a good retirement and amazing foals that be like him. Donna Brothers Is wish I would meet you in person same for Amy Hoffer to. Hopefully when the pandemic is over and things get back to normal. I love watching the Kentucky Derby, Preakness stakes, Belmont Stakes, and the Breeders’s Cup World Championships. With the horse racing safety and integrity act signed into law hopefully the animal activists leave racing alone but probably not. No matter what happens I will still love ❤️ Support and watch horse racing. We have rode horses before which is true it is magical and I Told you before I used to take horseback riding lesssons at Maple Woods Farm with my riding instructor Amy Carey and I competed in horse shows. I told you I was born with Autism for a unknown cause. I certainly love both horses and horse racing.
Mathew, I too am excited to watch the Eclipse Awards! Virtual this year but that’s ok–they’re still a really big deal! In reference to a prior post, yes, fully aware of what happened in FL with greyhound racing. Why do you think I work so hard to improve our sport’s track record? Be well, Donna
Hi Donna Brothers i would like to say thank you and Amy Hoffer 🙏 so much for exposing people from Horse Racing Wrongs and Peta they have said some stuff that is isn’t true about racing you would not believe the founder of Horse Racing Wrongs Patrick Battuello said he not only want complete for elimination of racing but also the horses themselves and a world devoid to Throughbreds, Quarter Horses,and Standardbreds and everything in between which that is the stuff he said to Amy Hoffer And he goal would be achieved by extinction of an entire species. Banning racing is not a option. With the horse racing safety and integrity act passed there is still need work to be done ✅ to make sure horses are safe. I know no one in the industry and racing fans including me don’t want to see a horse get put down and the deaths are rare. I agree with Amy We 👀 look out for the safety and welfare of the horses while supporting horse racing and other equine sports. Donna I was born with Autism with an unknown cause. I can’t for the eclipse awards to watch it on 📺 tv. Donna you and I have rode horses before which it is magical same for Amy.
Yes, Amy was all over this! She smelled a rat and did a little research. We were lucky enough to have her reveal what she found on this platform.
I always appreciate your insight and honesty. I loved, loved, loved Johnny V’s ride on Authentic in the Kentucky Derby. I agree 100% with how you described it. But I watched about six thousand races this year, and day in/day out, at every distance, surface and condition, it was Joel who rode the best. We are blessed that we get to watch these three competing against each other. My vote would go to Joel, but I can totally see why you voted like you did.
Here’s to a healthy and happy New Year to all the horses and people!
Michael, thank you so much for your feedback and perspective. Not gonna lie, I think it’s possible that you watch more races a year than I do! Totally agree that Joel is one of the best riders in the United States and I could easily put him in the top spot in another year. It’s also possible that I was a bit biased because I knew Authentic and his quirks so well which impressed me all the more when Johnny V rode him so masterfully the first time he ever sat on him. Perhaps if I knew some of Joel’s mounts better my vote would’ve gone for him. And the sheer number of horses that Irad rode this year–and the remarkable results he produced. It was not an easy choice but I could only put one on top. This year, it was Johnny.
Healthy and Happy New Year to you too, Michael!
Thanks for posting this and sending it out. I love learning what the “ experts “ think and why. We hear what, all the time, but rarely why.
Thanks, Nancy. Hope you feel better soon!
Hi Donna Brothers i would like to say thank you and Amy Hoffer 🙏 so much for exposing people from Horse Racing Wrongs and Peta they have said some stuff that is isn’t true about racing you would not believe the founder of Horse Racing Wrongs Patrick Battuello said he not only want complete for elimination of racing but also the horses themselves and a world devoid to Throughbreds, Quarter Horses,and Standardbreds and everything in between which that is the stuff he said to Amy Hoffer And he goal would be achieved by extinction of an entire species. Banning racing is not a option. With the horse racing safety and integrity act passed there is still need work to be done ✅ to make sure horses are safe. I know no one in the industry and racing fans including me want to see a horse get put down and the deaths are rare. And I agree with Amy I would 👀 out for the welfare while support horse racing and other equine sports but Horse racing Wrongs Disagrees. Donna I was born with autism with an unknown cause. And both rode horses before which it is true it is magical. From Mathew
Thanks, Mathew. And I’m sorry that some of your previous comments disappeared. We had an issue with the website and it had to reset to an earlier date and many of your prior comments were lost in the reset.