Southern California’s grip on horse racing’s Eclipse Awards continues to wane with only three horses and one person among the 16 groups of finalists that were announced Saturday. Though the number is small, the region does have the entry that should easily win the most important award, Horse of the Year.
Flightline, who is trained by John Sadler and was undefeated in six races over two years, including dominating wins in the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic, should win Horse of the Year and is a finalist in Older Dirt Male. Finalists for Horse of the Year were not announced.
Other Santa Anita- and Del Mar-based horses are Taiba and Cave Rock, both trained by Bob Baffert. Flavien Prat, who rides part of the year in Southern California and has a home near Santa Anita, is a finalist for Jockey of the Year.
Southern California had 17 Eclipse Award nominees in 2017 and 18 in 2018, including Triple Crown winner Justify. Since then, the number has dramatically declined to six, eight and seven and now four this year.
The most interesting of all the categories is 3-year-old Male. There will be sentiment for Epicenter, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and later won the Travers Stakes. He was injured in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and did not finish and was retired. There should also be sentiment for Taiba, the only 3-year-old male who won three Grade 1 stakes and finished third in the Classic behind Flightline and Olympiad. The wild card will be Modern Games, who mostly races on the turf in Europe and won two races on this continent, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile.
The category with the least clear favorite is Female Turf, which has In Italian, Regal Glory and War Like Goddess as nominees.
Other categories in which there are clear favorites include Forte for 2-year-old Male (over Cave Rock and Victoria Road), Nest as 3-year-old Filly (Secret Oath, Tuesday), Modern Games in the Male Turf (Nations Pride, Rebel’s Romance), Godolphin as top breeder (Stonestreet Thoroughbred, Summer Wind Equine) and Irad Ortiz Jr., who would pick up his fourth Jockey of the Year Award (Prat, Joel Rosario).
Joining Flightline in the Older Dirt Male category are Life Is Good and Olympiad.
Awards that might have favorites but with not as much certainty include 2-year-old Filly (Leave No Trace, Meditate, Wonder Wheel), Older Dirt Female (Clairiere, Goodnight Olive, Malathaat), Male Sprint (Cody’s Wish, Elite Power, Jackie’s Warrior), Female Sprint (Caravel, Echo Zulu, Goodnight Olive).
The Owner of the Year Award is down to Godolphin, Peter M. Brant and Klaravich Stables. The Trainer of the Year Award is among Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher.
Voting on the awards is done by members of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Even though voters are asked to cast ballots for first, second and third, it is only to create suspense by providing three finalists. The actual award is decided only by first place votes, and the results have already been determined when the finalists are announced.
There are 17 total awards, including those for little-seen Steeplechase and Apprentice Jockey.
The winners will be honored Jan. 26 at a dinner in Palm Beach, Fla., three days before the running of the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.