Eclipse Awards 2023: A Rough Morning Line For Horse of the Year

White Abarrio won the Breeders' Cup Classic, but will he win HOTY? | Benoit

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The winners in 10 equine and seven human categories will be revealed beginning around 7:30 Thursday evening at the 53rd Annual Eclipse Awards at The Breakers in Palm Beach, Florida. A who's who of the American Thoroughbred industry will be dressed to the nines as the newest group of champions is announced.

Of the equine divisions–as is frequently the case–the majority feature little suspense, while there exists a fair bit of intrigue and arguments to be made for multiple horses in the older dirt male division, the female sprint division, the female turf category, and, not least, for the granddaddy of them all: the statuette for American Horse of the Year for 2023.

By the estimation of this writer, five horses amassed a body of work deserving of a spot on the ballot for the top prize. I am not a morning-line maker, so please no critiquing of the odds, but to follow is a highly unscientific attempt at handicapping those who could be announced as Horse of the Year finalists during Thursday's ceremonies (Ed's note: while the divisional finalists were announced a few weeks ago, the finalists for Horse of the Year were not revealed at that time).

White Abarrio (Race Day, 5-2): To win the GI Whitney S. and GI Breeders' Cup Classic consecutively and in a fashion as convincingly as he did, the Rick Dutrow, Jr.-trainee got my vote for Thursday's top honors. Though he was fairly well-beaten by the candidate below in the GI Met Mile–while admittedly in receipt of six pounds–the effort was anything but a disaster, and he did turn the tables in no uncertain terms in the Whitney, when Cody's Wish was sportingly tried over a stamina-sapping nine furlongs. He's my idea of Horse of the Year, but perhaps not the likeliest winner.

Cody's Wish (Curlin, 6-5): The lone blemish in the Whitney aside, and I am willing to be forgiving of it, Cody's Wish's campaign was brilliant, as he won three times at Grade I level (one more than White Abarrio) and once at Grade II. To take something of a contrarian point of view, his Vosburgh didn't exactly pass the eye (or speed) test and he was very game–if not spectacular–in defending his GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. The story is heartwarming and it sadly turned heartbreaking, but I am duty bound to judge horses' ability. Sentimentality might win the day and there were some misguided opinions that 'the story matters sometimes' and not what these athletes did on the racetrack, but I went the other direction in a category this guy may well win.

Elite Power (Curlin, 8-1): One of his spectacular sire's three Eclipse winners last year and it would be a surprise if he didn't become the third back-to-back winner in the sprint division. But did he do enough to be HOTY? Probably not. The big chestnut won the season series with fellow finalist Gunite (Gun Runner) by a score of 3-1 (including the G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint) and he was dominating in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint. Enormous talent who has every chance to make his mark as a stallion at Juddmonte, but no better than the distant third choice here.

Up to the Mark (Not This Time, 20-1): In another year, Up to the Mark–who will be favored in the male turf division–may have had a say here, as he sensationally won Grade I races at a mile, nine furlongs and 10 furlongs, and was hardly disgraced when trying a mile and a half for the first time in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf. It is no stretch to mention him in the same breath as Bricks and Mortar and Wise Dan–he's not out of his depth there–but unlike those two, he is an unlikely winner here, though it wouldn't be a total shock if he made the final three.

Idiomatic (Curlin, 50-1): She is regally bred and it would be a stretch to call her a 'rags-to-riches' story given her pedigree and connections. But it's fair to say she surprised even those closest to her in 2023, as she went from a Turfway allowance win on Jan. 4 to close an eight-for-nine season with a tough-as-nails victory in the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff. According to published reports, she remains in training as a 5-year-old in 2024. That's good news for fans, and bad news for anyone who owns anything in the Distaff division. Who knows, maybe she scoops this award at next year's ceremony.

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