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A Breeders’ Cup run is the fast-track for Eclipse Award success

Gun Runner

By Ryan Dickey

Nothing shines on a résumé quite like a Breeders’ Cup victory, and it’s a sure bet that Breeders’ Cup winners will do well during the 47th Eclipse Awards ceremony at Gulfstream Park on Thursday, January 25, 2018.

While not necessarily a prerequisite to be named champion in any particular division, Breeders’ Cup winners are more often than not listed as finalists when the awards are handed out every year. In some divisions, it’s almost a certainty that if a horse wins his or her respective Breeders’ Cup race, they become the front-runner for the award.

In the juvenile divisions, the three listed finalists are most often the horses who won or were close runners-up in the juvenile Breeders’ Cup races.

Since 2010, the winner of the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has taken home the title every year, with the exception of 2014 when American Pharoah was named champion 2-year-old male even though Texas Red won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 2013 when Shared Belief was crowned champion despite New Year’s Day winning the Juvenile.

This year’s Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male is sure to be hotly contested between Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Good Magic and third place finisher Bolt d’Oro.

Winning the 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies has been a direct path to scoring the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old female in recent years. Only 2013 Breeders’ Cup Fillies winner She’s a Tiger has won the juvenile filly championship without winning the Juvenile Fillies since 2010. This year, Caledonia Road leads the finalists for the award.

In the 3-year-old divisions, the Eclipse Award finalists are most likely the horses that performed well in the classic races — meaning the finalists for champion 3-year-old male are usually Triple Crown race winners, while the females are mostly winners of Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and races such as the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga.

In years in which a single colt or gelding wins the Kentucky Derby and either the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes, he is usually tabbed the favorite of the listed finalists, and for good reason.

Arrogate is a recent exception among Eclipse Award 3-year-old male champions — he did not participate in any Triple Crown races in 2016, but was named champion after winning the Travers Stakes in record time as well as the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

In 2013, three different 3-year-old colts won a Triple Crown race, and Will Take Charge was not one of them. He did, however, win the Travers Stakes and Pennsylvania Derby. But what mostly like cinched his 3-year-old male championship that year was his game second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose to winner Mucho Macho Man.

For the 2017 Eclipse Awards, the 3-year-old male division is a bit tougher to handicap, with finalists Always Dreaming (Kentucky Derby winner), West Coast (Travers Stakes winner, third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic) and Battle of Midway (third in the Kentucky Derby, winner of the Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile).

Always Dreaming was taken out of training following a ninth-place finish in the 2017 Travers Stakes and is back in trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn preparing for a 4-year-old campaign.

West Coast, a multiple Grade 1 winner, not only captured the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, but also was victorious in the Pennsylvania Derby. He finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Gun Runner and Collected.

Battle of Midway is the only one of the three finalists in the 3-year-old male division to have won a Breeders’ Cup race, and that lone victory is the reason he attained enough votes to become a finalist — proving how valuable a Breeders’ Cup victory truly is.

For the rest of the divisions this year, the finalists in each are led by Breeders’ Cup winners, including: male sprinter (Roy H won the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint), female sprinter (Bar of Gold won the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint), male turf (World Approval won the Breeders’ Cup Mile), and older male and Horse of the Year (presumptive winner Gun Runner triumphed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic).

Although California Chrome won the 2016 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (as well as being named champion older horse) while losing to Arrogate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, expect Gun Runner’s Breeders’ Cup Classic victory at Del Mar to provide him with multiple trophies.

Success in Breeders’ Cup races isn’t exactly as easy as “Win and You’re In” as far as Eclipse Award wins are concerned, but running and winning on the biggest stage in racing goes a long way in the eyes of those who get a vote.

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