Thursday, January 6, 2011

Not So Smiling Tiger (Eclipse Award Finalist Thoughts)

Finalists for the Eclipse Awards were announced today, with no major surprises. The big guns were nominated for Horse of the Year, and most of the categories are nothing more than mere formalities. Blind Luck, Blame, Zenyatta and Lookin at Lucky will win their respective division with ease. The two tough divisions (Sprint Male & Turf Male) look to have the right finalists (though one could argue that Paddy O'Prado should be the third finalist for Turf Male). But only one division's three finalists has this blog in uproar. The three year old male division has a clear winner in Lookin At Lucky, but the other two finalists had campaigns that were equaled, if not surpassed, by the horse who was left off the ballot.

The biggest disappointment for this blog is seeing Smiling Tiger not being nominated for champion 3yo male. While he did pick up a nod for Champion Sprinter, "Tiger" put together a campaign that was as tough as any of the three finalists, including Lucky. People complain about how the 3yo's of today wait until as long as possible to face older horses. Smiling Tiger did not, as he faced them four times this year, with his first start against them on August 1st. All four of his starts against older were at the Grade 1 level, and he hit the board in all four. (2 wins, 2 3rds.) This is stark difference to the other three finalists, who combined faced older three times. (Paddy did it twice, Lucky once and Eskendereya zero).

In Grade 1 competition, Smiling Tiger did arguably the best as well. In his 5 Grade 1 races, he hit the board all five time with 2 wins, 1 2nd & 2 3rds, with all but the 2nd against older horses. Paddy O'Prado ran 6 times in G1s, finishing with 1 win, 2 2nd and 1 3rd, with the 3rd and an off-the-board finish against older. Eskendereya ran only one race at the G1 level, winning it decisively, but not against older, and the win occurred in April. Lucky ran in 5 Grade 1's as well, finishing with 2 wins and one third, with his only run against older being a 4th, being defeated by another 3yo (Fly Down) in the process. Smiling Tiger was the only one to be on the board at the level and he did so against older.

So why didn't he get the nod? Being from a west coast barn that does not have much, if any, national presence as the Jeff Bonde barn probably hurt his chances. The fact that he did most of the damage over synthetics also hurt his cause. But the likeliest cause is the age-old bias against sprinters. Voters have shown they are very reluctant to vote for a sprinter over a router, no matter the age. Tiger was a victim of this bias, and he will not be the last. It is rather ironic that this country has bred for speed, speed and more speed the last 30 years, yet it still heavily leans towards the routers come awards time.

1 comment:

  1. My complaints with the Eclipse finalists are also on the margins. I suppose I don't have a huge problem with Esky and Paddy getting the 2nd and 3rd slots for 3 Year Old Male, given that Smiling Tiger is a finalist for Male Sprinter. However, you are correct that if we're being fair, Smiling Tiger deserved to be a finalist in both categories.

    Had I voted, I would have placed Paddy 3rd for Male Turf Horse and left him off for 3 Year Old Male. In the 3rd slot for 3 Year Old Male, I either would have had Smiling Tiger or 5-time graded stakes winner, Sidney's Candy. One of the big problems I have with the actual finalists is Dangerous Midge, a middling Euro, getting a spot in the Male Turf division off one less than inspiring North American start(a win in a subpar BC Turf). Personally, I think Sidney's Candy and definitely Smiling Tiger are more deserving Eclipse finalists(for 3 Year Old Male) than Dangerous Midge(for Male Turf). And had Paddy been given the 3rd slot in the Male Turf, then either Sidney or Smiling Tiger would have been the 3rd finalist for 3 Year Old Male.

    My biggest problem is the exclusion of Switch in the Female Sprinter division. Obviously, many voters had turned in their ballots before the December 26th gr.1 La Brea, for if they would have waited until after the race, Switch should have been ranked the #2 Female Sprinter. Given how many people have emphasized the head-to-head meeting between Blame and Zenyatta in arguing over Horse of the Year, it's ironic that Switch is not among the finalists for Female Sprinter even though she finished ahead of one of the other finalists, Champagne d' Oro, both of the times they met.

    My last complaint is with the 2 Year Old Male division. To Honor and Serve is a very nice horse, and arguably the 2nd favorite for the Derby. However, his 2 gr.2 wins are topped by Comma to the Top's wins in a gr.1, gr.3, and an ungraded $100k stakes. Thus, Comma to the Top would have been my 3rd selection for 2 Year Old Male.

    It's hard not to notice that all of the horses that I believe were unfairly left off the finalist lists were based in California. However, before pointing an accusatory finger and claiming bias, keep in mind that Turbulent Descent was voted a finalist for 2 Year Old Filly, Evening Jewel a finalist for 3 Year Old Filly, and Richard's Kid a finalist for Older Male. Those positions could have gone to Eastern based contenders Position Limit, Devil May Care, and Haynesfield respectively.