Once again, trainer Bob Baffert had the most Southern California horses selected as finalists for the annual Eclipse Awards. The Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, Corniche and Gamine joined Flightline and Ce Ce as nominees to horse racing’s biggest honors.
In addition, locally based jockey Flavien Prat was chosen in the rider category, and Jessica Pyfer is a finalist for best apprentice jockey.
Last year, Baffert had eight nominations and finished with four wins, including horse of the year Authentic. Baffert was a finalist for best trainer, but the mostly East Coast-based voters gave the award to Brad Cox, who is a finalist this year along with Steve Asmussen and Chad Brown.
There were few surprises among the 16 categories announced Saturday, with most of the suspense around two awards.
The 3-year-old male award is thought to be between Essential Quality and Medina Spirit with Life Is Good also a finalist. Essential Quality won the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes in New York, and Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby and beat older horses in the Awesome Again. Medina Spirit finished ahead of Essential Quality in the Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in their only two meetings.
But there remains a stigma around Medina Spirit because he tested positive for a legal anti-inflammatory banned on race day after winning the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to charge Baffert. Medina Spirit died after a workout at Santa Anita on Dec. 6 of what is preliminarily being called a cardiac event, pending a full necropsy and investigation.
The other category in question is Male Sprinter in which the John Sadler-trained Flightline was named a finalist against Aloha West and Jackie’s Warrior. Flightline easily put forward the best sprinting performances last year but ran only three races, winning by a combined 37 ½ lengths. Aloha West won five races, including the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and Jackie’s Warrior won four of seven but finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint as the favorite.
The Female Sprinter award has two Southern California-based horses in Ce Ce, trained by Michael McCarthy and winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, and Gamine, who won four graded stakes before finishing third in the race won by Ce Ce.
The Horse of the Year finalists are not made public, but it is a foregone conclusion it will go to Knicks Go, who will most assuredly also win Older Dirt Male, where he is a finalist with Maxfield and Mystic Guide. Knicks Go won the Breeders’ Cup Classic and four other races, including the Pegasus World Cup and Whitney Stakes.
All voting for the Eclipse Awards has been done, so the naming of finalists is done in an effort generate interest in the awards. The winners will be announced Feb. 10 in a ceremony at Santa Anita. Those who vote on the awards are members of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Assn. and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.