Only one juvenile stands out

December, 17, 2013

Its the time of year when wise mail carriers keep the bottles of aspirin handy. The weight of all those holiday packages and cards can add up in a hurry.

You can also add to that mix a piece of mail of particular interest to the Thoroughbred racing industry.

Eclipse Awards ballots are in the mail and this past weekend one division that seemed settled became subject to further review.

After winning the Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity at soon to be shuttered Hollywood Park by a decisive 5 ¾-length margin, Shared Belief has become an increasingly popular option as the year's champion male.

The Cash Call lifted Shared Belief's record to a perfect 3-for-3, with a combined winning margin of 20 ½ lengths and a victory in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue preceding the Cash Call.

It's a highly impressive resume, except for the one thing its lacking: a Breeders' Cup victory.

In the first 29 runnings of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, 23 of those winners received an Eclipse Award and the trend should continue this year as well.

As impressive as Shared Belief has been, the Breeders' Cup trumps any other race for juveniles.

As impressive as Shared Belief has been, the Breeders' Cup trumps any other race for juveniles. It attracts the best field of the year with quality runners from all parts of the nation -- and at times the world -- and horsemen know if they want to win an Eclipse Award they have to craft a schedule for their horse that includes the Breeders' Cup.

That's exactly what trainer Bob Baffert did with New Year's Day. After the son of Street Cry rallied from last to finish third in his debut on Aug. 17 at Del Mar, Baffert brought him back two weeks later to break his maiden. After that, New Year's Day did not race again until the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita, when he scored by a 1 ¼ lengths over Havana, who had previously taken the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park.

That may be a limited body of work with only one stakes victory, but that black type victory came in the most important race of all and should outweigh a pair of stakes, even if one of them was a Grade 1 stakes. In general, all Grade 1 stakes are not equal and when it comes to 2-year-old racing, the attention focused on it usually makes the BC Juvenile game, set and match in the process of crowning a champion.

New Year's Day also won on dirt and a synthetic surface which attests to his versatility. Shared Belief, who is owned in part by smack-talking sports yakker Jim Rome's Jungle Racing, has only raced on a synthetic surface.

The irony is that an Eclipse Award at two does not bode well for a horse's future at three. Since the inception of the Breeders' Cup in 1984, the 29 2-year-old champions have a combined four wins in the three legs of the Triple Crown. That's a mark of 4 for 87, a batting average that only a weak-swinging National League pitcher could envy.

So maybe Shared Belief will prove to be the better horse down the road. If he handles dirt as well as he does synthetic surface, he might be a very special horse.

But for now, there's only been one special win by a 2-year-old male and it belongs to New Years Day, the colt who's most deserving of an Eclipse Award.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.