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December big for 2-year-olds

So here we are in the year's final month, amid the annual celebration characterized by runaway commercialism, roasting chestnuts, and Santa Anita's opening, and still we haven't seen a 2-year-old assert a championship claim or brandish anything that looked to these eyes like Eclipse Award credentials. But that could change soon. If Shared Belief wins the CashCall Futurity impressively, he should be named the champion juvenile of 2013.

Since the first Breeders' Cup in 1984, 23 of 29 Juvenile winners have been named champion.


Voters, of course, might not see it that way. After all, voters can be fickle, and they're inclined to cling to their preconceptions like life jackets despite compelling contradictory evidence. And some voters, as the George Mason University history professor Rick Shenkman points out, are just "habitually stupid." Missouri once voted a dead guy into the Senate, Minnesota put a professional wrestler into the governor's mansion, Toronto elected a running gag as mayor, and Eclipse voters -- well, there will always be Anees, the champion juvenile of 1999.

He won a single stakes race, but it happened to be the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where Dixie Union, who had defeated Anees decisively in the Norfolk and probably should have been the champion, drew the No. 12 post position. Dixie Union raced five-wide for the entire journey and finished fifth. And so the voters -- including many, it's assumed, who don't watch races and a few who, to borrow a golden phrase from the professor, might even be "habitually stupid" -- went for Anees. He never won another race.

Since the first Breeders' Cup in 1984, 23 of 29 Juvenile winners have been named champion -- how did we ever come up with champions before then -- including four whose only stakes victory as a 2-year-old came in the Breeders' Cup: Street Sense, Action This Day, Rhythm and Anees. Street Sense's Juvenile romp -- he won by more than 10 lengths -- was so overwhelming and so dominating that it left no doubt about who deserved the Eclipse Award. As for the other three single-stakes-winning champs, well, there might have been better choices.

And so who's the choice this year? New Year's Day will probably be the champion since he won the Juvenile and since that seems to be all that matters to some voters. He's obviously a talented colt with a bright future, and it won't be a surprise if down the road he turns out to be the best of the group. He's a lightly raced, April foal who could develop into a formidable 3-year-old. He could even develop into a champion, but is he there already?

Accomplishments, not potential, should determine championships, and what were his accomplishments? Third in his debut, he then won a maiden race and then the Juvenile. It was his only stakes victory, and the horses that finished immediately behind him, Havana and Strong Mandate, arguably gave performances that were at least as good as the winner's. From his No. 13 post position, Strong Mandate had to use his speed, and he led the field through three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.70; still, he had to race wide, as did Havana. They'll probably get a few Eclipse votes, and they'll deserve them.

Honor Code is another who, at this point, could deserve the title. Like New Year's Day, he ran three times, with two victories. But his only loss came in the Champagne, where he rallied from last to finish a neck behind Havana. And then, of course, he won the recent Remsen with a tenacious and determined effort, beating Cairo Prince, the Nashua winner, by a nose after momentarily losing the lead in mid-stretch. But the Remsen will have to remain an enigma for a while simply because it was so slow.

The Remsen Stakes will have to remain an enigma for a while simply because it was so slow.

It was run like a turf race -- or a sermon. The eight youngsters strolled through the opening half-mile in 52.74 seconds and three-quarters of a mile in 1:17.56 -- compared to the Comely's 48.04 and 1:11.98; and the Demoiselle's 50.65 and 1:15.45 earlier on the card -- and then they sprinted home. Still, the clocking for the race, which belied any effort to assign the Remsen a meaningful speed figure, was sluggardly, 1:52.92 for the 1 ⅛ miles, or three full seconds slower than the Comely's final time and slower even, by .30 seconds, than the Demoiselle's.

Honor Code finished full of energy, running the final three-eighths in 35.36 seconds, but after such slugabed fractions of course he finished fast, they all finished fast, or nearly all of them, and some came home faster than the winner. Intense Holiday, who rallied from sixth to fourth, ran the final three furlongs in 35.01 seconds. So, did the Remsen mean that Honor Code should be named the champion 2-year-old of 2013, on the strength of a single stakes victory, in an enigmatic sermon of a race, by a nose?

Actually, I wouldn't argue against a vote for any of the four -- New Year's Day, Havana, Strong Mandate and Honor Code. But that in itself suggests a problem. Nobody has emerged clearly and alone; nobody has jumped onto the stage and proclaimed himself the leader or shouted out his credentials. That's why the upcoming CashCall, on Dec. 14 at Hollywood Park, could be so important. It presents Shared Belief with an opportunity to do just that.

He won his debut by seven lengths, and then he won the Hollywood Prevue by nearly eight with a dazzling display of acceleration down the lane, where he ran the final furlong in 11.86 seconds, completing the final three-eighths in 36.11 and the seven-eighths in 1:22.17.

Neither Pioneerof The Nile nor Declan's Moon won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but both used the CashCall, or Hollywood, Futurity to nail down an Eclipse Award. Shared Belief has a chance to do the same with an impressive victory, if only the voters will be watching and not prematurely roasting their chestnuts.