2023 Eclipse Award Voting

This year was not nearly as difficult as the last couple of years, with the exception of trying to decide on those second and third spots in a few categories. I tried so hard to vote in the Steeplechase category. Trainer Keri Brion, whose stable includes both flat and steeplechase horses, was nice enough to write a piece for the Paulick Report to guide voters with little knowledge of the steeplechase horses. I read her article and studied the candidates. They took turns beating one another, and often those defeats or wins could be attributed to vast differences in weight carried, but sometimes not so much. Considering I did not watch one of these races this year, I could not vote in good conscience. I simply don’t know enough about them to vote with enough conviction to be able to defend my position so I abstained.

As always, you may not agree with all of my opinions; in fact, I hope you don’t. That’s why we vote. If the choices were always clear-cut, we’d simply have a selection committee make the decisions. In any case, here goes. And while it is too late to change my votes, I’d still like to hear from you and learn the rationale behind your own selections.


1st – Fierceness, 2nd – Big Evs, 3rd – Muth

My first consideration in each category is always grade/group one wins. Of the 21 two-year-old males worthy of nomination, nine of them won a grade/group one race, but none won more than one grade/group one, so I defer to Breeders’ Cup wins as they are our sport’s year-end Championship races. My vote goes to Fierceness for his win in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and I’ll forgive his dismal performance over the sloppy track at Aqueduct following his precocious debut at Saratoga. 

Big Evs (Ire) was an easy choice for the second spot, and had any of his wins in Europe been in Group 1 races; he would’ve received my top vote. Muth comes in third, given his win in the G1 American Pharoah Stakes, followed by his runner-up showing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.


1st – Just FYI, 2nd – Hard to Justify, 3rd – Brightwork

Just FYI was a layup here with her 3-for-3 undefeated season and two grade one wins, one of which was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Hard to Justify is easy to justify for the second spot. She also carries a 3-for-3 undefeated record with a win at Breeders’ Cup (Juvenile Fillies Turf) and a win in the G2 Miss Grillo Stakes.

Brightwork showed so much promise at the start of her campaign, going 4-for-4, including a win in the G1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga. But then they stretched her out to two-turn races, and she fell badly off form. Hopefully, we’ll see the brilliant version of Brightwork when she returns to racing in her sophomore year.


1st – Auguste Rodin (Ire), 2nd – Archangelo, 3rd – Mage

My sentimental side wanted to vote for Archangelo in the top spot. His win in the Belmont Stakes was exactly what people in horse racing needed at that time: a horse, trainer, and owner we could all root for! However, Auguste Rodin won four grade/group one races on the year, including the win in one of the most contentious races we saw at the Breeders’ Cup this year, the BC Turf. It’s also worth noting that Auguste Rodin’s four group/grade one wins in 2023 came in three different countries—and he was only three years old. I’m looking forward to watching him mature. 

Archangelo won 4 of his 5 starts on the year, and trainer Jenna Antonucci did a brilliant job of getting him to peak when it really mattered. The Belmont Stakes may not be considered a stallion-making race, but the Travers Stakes is, and he showed great versatility in winning them both. Plus, these connections were just plain fun to root for. Mage won the G1 Kentucky Derby, and while that was his only sensational race in 2023, it was enough.


1st – Pretty Mischievous, 2nd – Mawj (Ire), 3rd – Anisette (GB)

Pretty Mischievous started six times in 2023, winning 4 of them and finishing second twice. We all know that she was going to be second in the G1 Test had tragedy not struck, but at the end of the day, she came away with three G1 wins, a G2 win, and two second-place finishes in G1 and G2 races. 

Mawj may be the filly who impressed me the most, though. Her narrow defeat (second by a nose) in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile showed that this three-year-old filly has the heart of a champion—as if her two G1 wins prior to that were not proof enough. I’m looking forward to her 2024 campaign. Anisette also tallied two grade one wins in 2023, plus a win in the G2 San Clemente, for a total of four wins and two seconds from her six starts on the year.


1st – Cody’s Wish, 2nd – Elite Power, 3rd – White Abarrio

We had lots of good “older dirt males” from which to choose this year, but Cody’s Wish came away with the most grade one wins and the greatest feel-good story of the year. His five starts in 2023 netted four wins, including three grade one wins and a repeat in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. I would be remiss not to mention the brilliant handling by jockey Junior Alvarado. Come-from-behind horses can be tricky to ride. It looks straightforward: let them drop back and then make one run. But the jockey still has to know when to make that run and how far back to let the horse drop. Much of that depends on the pace ahead, and so the jockey on a closer needs to be able to assess the pace that is happening maybe ten lengths in front of him/her. Junior’s rides were flawless.

Now let’s talk about the superlative training job by Billy Mott, who masterfully managed my top two selections this year. Keeping Cody’s Wish and Elite Power apart could not have been easy, but in doing so, he netted eight graded stakes wins from a combined ten starts. Well played, Mr. Mott. Well played. White Abarrio peaked in Dutrow’s barn, and his win in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic was both impressive and memorable, but, alas, his body of work for 2023 does not compare to my top two selections.


1st – Idiomatic, 2nd – Goodnight Olive, 3rd – Clairiere

No brainer: Idiomatic. Wow, what a year! Nine starts, eight wins, and a second-place finish. Three grade one wins, a grade two win, and a grade three win. She was the gift that just kept giving. Goodnight Olive had another good year, but while she went 4-for-4 in 2022, her five starts in 2023 netted three wins, a second, and a third. Still, two of those wins were in grade one races, and the most impressive of them all was her year-ending romp in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. 

Clairiere was very close to getting my third-place vote in this category last year but got nosed out by Malathaat. Clairiere only won two races from six starts this year, but they were the right races to win: the G1 Apple Blossom and the G1 Ogden Phipps.


1st – Cody’s Wish, 2nd – Elite Power, 3rd – Gunite

Given that my top two choices for “older dirt male” were both sprinters, it stands to reason that those two will be my top 2 choices here. I applaud Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott for experimenting with Cody’s Wish around two turns in the G1 Whitney. It didn’t work, but we would never know if he didn’t try. Cody’s Wish rebounded off that defeat with back-to-back wins in grade one races once he returned to sprinting. 

Elite Power was an easy choice for second. For third, I was torn between Gunite and Nobals because Nobals did win the G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but in the end, I felt like Gunite’s strength of schedule was more impressive. He may have only won three races in 2023, but he did come away with a grade-one win, and even when he finished second, he beat some really good horses.


1st – Goodnight Olive, 2nd – Echo Zulu, 3rd – Maple Leaf Mel

Goodnight Olive may not have been a perfect 4-for-4 this year (as she was in 2022), but her 3-for-5 season was still impressive, and she did win the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Again. Echo Zulu’s 2023 3-for-3 record makes her easy to root for, and she even defeated Goodnight Olive the one time they faced off against one another. But Goodnight Olive gets the nod for her Breeders’ Cup win and strength of schedule. 

Maple Leaf Mel. A little piece of all of us died when she succumbed to a catastrophic injury in the G1 Test Stakes. I wish making her number one here would bring her back. If it would, I would. R.I.P. Mel.


1st – Auguste Rodin (Ire), 2nd – Up to the Mark, 3rd – Master of The Seas (Ire)

A vote for any horse is also a vote against another, and it was really tough for me to vote against USA-based Up to the Mark here. Seven starts with five wins, a second, and a third, and some of the most thrilling and memorable finishes of the year in the G1 Turf Mile and G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. However, Auguste Rodin won four of his six races, coming away with four grade/group one wins in three different countries. He also gifted us with a brave rally from far back and through a narrow opening along the rail in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Brave horse, brave jockey. Great race. 

Master of The Seas finished the year with four wins from seven starts which included four graded stakes wins in as many countries. Given his travel schedule in 2023 (Dubai, Great Britain, Canada, USA), finishing his campaign with a win in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile was all the more impressive.


1st – Inspiral (GB), 2nd – Mawj (Ire), 3rd – In Italian (GB)

Even though Inspiral was the morning-line and betting favorite for the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, there was nothing about her winning that was assured until the final strides. That’s when she showed the pure grit and determination that got her to the Breeders’ Cup in the first place. It capped an already successful year by giving her her third grade/group one win in a row and in three different countries. 

If Mawj’s narrow defeat (second by a nose) in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile had instead been a narrow victory, she would be my top pick here. She was so close to being undefeated on the season, collecting four wins in five starts while racing in Dubai, Europe, and the USA. In Italian may not be as good as she once was, but she’s still pretty fantastic. She finished the year with two grade-one wins and very narrow defeats (and second-place finishes) in two other grade-one races.



As I mentioned in the introduction, I really tried to vote this year. Trainer Keri Brion, whose stable includes both flat and steeplechase horses, wrote a piece for the Paulick Report to guide voters with their steeplechase selections. She suggested we pay particular attention to weights since many of these horses took turns beating one another. Weights definitely seemed to swing the pendulum. Well, weights and/or really soft footing. 

I finally landed on Snap Decision as my top horse because, aside from the yielding turf course debacle where he was pulled up, he had been the most consistent and almost always carried a high impost. But then I realized he didn’t win a group/grade one race. So I decided to go for Awakened, who was also consistent and won a grade one race, but then I saw that Snap Decision beat him in their mutual last start of 2023, with Awakened carrying 150 pounds to Snap Decision’s 162-pound impost. 

Aside from Snap Decision, all of the nominees won at least one grade/group one race—but no more than one grade/group one race. Having not watched any of their races and not knowing who they beat or got beaten by, I could not, with good conscience, vote in this category this year. I’ll try again in 2024.


1st – Auguste Rodin (Ire), 2nd – Cody’s Wish , 3rd – Idiomatic

Auguste Rodin won my top vote in both 3-year-old Male and Male Turf Horse and to accomplish 4 grade/group one wins in one year is quite a feat, let alone that he won these races in three different countries over good/soft turf to firm footing and at the classic distance of a mile and ½. Cody’s Wish gets my top sentimental vote, but when comparing actual results, he posted three grade one wins to Auguste Rodin’s four. 

Idiomatic was a beast this year! She won eight races in nine starts but never competed against the boys. Still, her three grade one wins and dominance of the Older Dirt Female division were admirable.


1st – Godolphin, LLC, 2nd – Juddmonte, 3rd – Klaravich Stables, Inc.

Owed to their record in graded stakes in 2023, Godolphin ran away with the win in this category. Klaravich actually won one more race and had fewer starts. However, Godolphin’s 27 graded stakes wins in North America in 2023 (13 of which were grade-one wins) netted earnings of $17,270,223 to Klaravich’s $9,503,875. 

Juddmonte had a great year, namely because of Idiomatic and Elite Power, who were both well-managed and with two different trainers. Juddmonte only won 33 races, but they won the right ones (12 graded stakes wins, including 7 grade one wins). Klaravich Stables had another banner year with a stable that is also brilliantly managed. There are many years that $9.5 million in earnings with 15 graded stakes wins, which included 5 grade one wins, would earn a top placing in this category.


1st – Godolphin, 2nd – Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC, 3rd – Brereton C. Jones

Another win for Godolphin. And these are the same top two—and in the same order—I proposed last year in the Breeder category. Godolphin topped the leaderboard in earnings, graded stakes wins, and grade one wins by a wide margin in the graded stakes categories. Stonestreet finished second in both graded stakes wins and grade one wins, with far fewer starts than the three breeders who topped them in the earnings categories.

Brereton Jones, may he rest in peace, left a massive legacy behind him. Jones-bred horses were competitive at all levels of racing, earning them third by both money earned and graded stakes wins. Beyond his breeding operation, Brereton Jones has been both an ambassador for horse racing and an advocate at the legislative level. He will be missed by many. 


1st – Ortiz, Jr., Irad, 2nd – Gaffalione, Tyler, 3rd – Prat, Flavien

Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the win—again! He’s been the Eclipse Award recipient for four of the past five years and is the odds-on favorite for 2023. Ortiz, Jr. led the nation’s jockeys in the number of overall wins and money earned and maintained a 23% win percentage on the year. What he’s accomplished since he began riding is nothing short of astonishing. A few stats: 

  • He began riding in 2011—also the year he won his first grade one race. 
  • Has won 3 or more grade one races each year since 2012.
  • Has finished the year as a Top 3 jockey (by money earned) every year since 2013.
  • Has led the nation in this category for six of the past seven years.
  • His 20 Breeders’ Cup wins equal the number accumulated by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. Velazquez began professionally when Ortiz, Jr. was just two years old.  
  • His earnings have topped $10 million every year since 2013. 
  • He won 15 grade-one races in 2023 and 20 in 2022!
  • His $39,192,585 in 2023 earnings top the next rider in the category by more than $9 million!
  • His $39,192,585 in 2023 earnings once again breaks his own single-season record of money earned ($37,075,772 in 2022).

Tyler Gaffalione and Flavian Prat had an outstanding year in 2023, but their accomplishments pale in every conceivable category compared to Irad Ortiz, Jr.


1st – Axel Concepcion, 2nd – Sofia Vives, 3rd – Elio Barrera

Their 2023 statistics do more to support my votes than anything I can add—so here they are:

JockeyStartsWinsPlaceShowWin %Earnings

I’ll generally base my vote on “strength of schedule,” meaning if an apprentice rider competes on a particularly tough circuit like New York or Southern California, but 2023’s top three apprentice riders have quite a mix. Concepcion started the year in Puerto Rico but then took his show on the road, riding in Maryland, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky. Vives rode for a bit in Pennsylvania, but most of her wins came at Woodbine Race Course in Canada, and nearly all of Barerra’s wins came at Louisiana tracks, mostly Evangeline and Delta Downs.


1st – Bill Mott, 2nd – Brad Cox, 3rd – Todd Pletcher

I often vote along statistical lines in this category, but not this year. The top 3 trainers (by my estimation) in this category were statistically aligned from the standpoint of grade-one wins. Cox led this group with 30 graded stakes wins, 12 of which were G1s. He also came away with a Breeders’ Cup win with Idiomatic. Pletcher posted 27 graded stakes wins, 10 of which were G1s, and he also netted a Breeder’s Cup win with Fierceness. Mott had fewer overall graded stakes wins with 24, but he managed 10 G1 wins and three Breeders’ Cup wins, plus two of his horses topped my Eclipse Votes in three categories (Just FYI—Two-Year-Old Filly and Cody’s Wish—Older Dirt Male and Male Sprinter). 

Mott gets my top vote for doing the most with the least amount of horses and starters. He’s been voted Champion Trainer three times, the last in 2011 and the first in 1995 & 1996. 1996 also happened to be the year that Todd Pletcher started training horses independently. Cox didn’t start until 2004. Billy Mott has been doing this for a very long time and, remarkably, maintaining a top outfit on one of the toughest circuits in USA racing. He gets my top vote for his 2023 achievements. 

While statistically speaking, the top three trainers in terms of earnings were (in order) Brad Cox, Steve Asmussen, and Todd Pletcher, Cox and Pletcher ended up with my second and third-place votes. The earnings for these top 3 trainers were close (ranging from $27,072,704 to $30,947,677), but Cox topped the earnings category and dominated in the win percentage category with a strike rate of 28% for the year. 

Pletcher came away with a Breeders’ Cup win, and his Fierceness is the most likely winner of the Two-Year-Old Male category.


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.


  • Euki Binns

    Donna, thank you! Every year I look forward to your choices and justifications on the Eclipse Awards. And I agree with you on Auguste Rodin – he WAS the number one candidate for the Turf Male and HOY categories, but it looks like we were in the minority. That said, I’ve been a fan of Mott’s since his Cigar days so I’m still happy to see Cody’s Wish and trainer Bill Mott receive such notable recognition.

    • Donna Brothers


      Yay! I’m happy to hear that someone concurs with my Auguste Rodin selection. Apparently, American voters prefer an American-based horse. However, I don’t think a horse should be penalized for being based on foreign soil. As long as they’ve proved their meddle against North American competition and have a solid record on the year. All the same, I’m also ok with Up to the Mark as Male Turf Champion and Cody’s Wish as HOY.

  • Gail McQueen

    All of your choices were well thought out, and I agree with almost all of them. However, I would have voted for Cody’s Wish for Horse of the Year, not only because of his accomplishments and the feel good story surrounding him all year, but because that story is what horse racing has needed, giving it a more human/ equine connection. But I loved all your explanations of your choices. I, too, would have abstained from voting in the steeplechase category, as I’m not very familiar with this part of horse racing.
    I always look forward to your comments and analysis.

    • Donna Brothers

      Thanks for your feedback, Gail. Obviously, the majority of voters agreed with you, and it does not sadden me to see that you and the voters chose Cody’s Wish. He was the feel-good story we needed, and I’m happy to see him come away with HOY honors. Again, thanks for your comments!

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