Commentary

Lacking championship credentials

Horse racing is without an award-worthy field in many divisions in 2013

Updated: December 17, 2013, 3:05 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

I've always enjoyed sifting through the past performances of the sports top horses and filling out my Eclipse Award ballot. It is fun looking back at the great performers and performances and theres something fulfilling about casting a vote for horses or people who are truly deserving of the sports highest honor.

I felt none of that this year. Maybe it was just a bad year, maybe it is a reflection of an era where horses aren't expected to race more than a handful of times, but there were some categories where, frankly, no one deserves an Eclipse Award.

Never has a weaker list of 2-year-olds appeared on an Eclipse ballot. Among both the fillies and the colts, not a single North American based juvenile managed to win more than one Grade 1 race this year. When that happens, the default pick is usually the Breeders' Cup winners, but both have serious flaws this year.

Never has a weaker list of 2-year-olds appeared on an Eclipse ballot.

With the males, New Years Day had merely broken his maiden prior to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Running the race of his life without Lasix for Lasix lovers Gary and Mary West, he won the Juvenile in convincing fashion, but that is his only accomplishment of any note. Isn't there anyone more deserving?

On this one I went for Shared Belief, but with no great conviction. At lease hes won two stakes races, the Hollywood Prevue and the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity, and hes undefeated. Plus, he was ultra-impressive last weekend at Hollywood Park and simply looks like a faster horse and a better prospect than New Years Day.

(The CashCall Futurity win is not included on Shared Beliefs past performances in the kit sent to media members because it was printed before this weekend. That will no doubt hurt his chances).

The 2-year-old filly championship is even trickier. When they crossed the wire in the Juvenile Fillies the race for the championship looked like a no-brainer. She's a Tiger not only crossed the wire first but she had another major win on her record, the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante. The stewards turned the situation upside down when they justifiably disqualified She's A Tiger for impeding Ria Antonia. But it's hard to make a solid case for Ria Antonia, whose only other win came in a maiden race at Woodbine.

I stuck with She's A Tiger. That doesnt mean I ignored the Breeders' Cup DQ, but her overall body of work is good. She's never been worse than second, won two stakes races and was second in the Breeders' Cup. Still, shes not exactly the type you vote for with any enthusiasm.

The Breeders' Cup didnt exactly settle things in the sprint category either. Do you really want to vote for a Breeders' Cup Sprint winner in Secret Circle who had all of two races this year, only one of which was a stakes race? I know I don't. Ill go for the ill-fated Points Offthebench, who broke down and was euthanized prior to the Breeders' Cup. At least he won two Grade 1 races on the year and four races overall.

Yes, I will vote for Wise Dan and will do so because he is the best candidate out there.

Then theres the steeplechase category. For the first time ever I will leave a category blank. There are six horses listed on the past performance sheet given to the media and there is not a single one even remotely close to deserving an Eclipse Award. None won more than two races all year and none won more than 40 percent of their starts.

The jumpers are going to have to do better than this in the future and come up with some horses with serious accomplishments. If not, this category needs to go.

Even my Horse of the Year vote will be cast with some misgivings. Yes, I will vote for Wise Dan and will do so because he is the best candidate out there.

But, sorry, he's a grass horse and, traditionally, voters go for grass horses only when no one stands out among male dirt horses. This will be two years in a row where Wise Dan will be named Horse of the Year only because his competition is a substandard group of male dirt horses. Where have the Curlins, Cigars, Tiznows and Invasors gone? Its worth noting that you have to go all the way back to Curlin in 2008 to find the last time a male dirt horse was named Horse of the Year.

I'm too young to sound this old, but when it comes to Eclipse Award winners they dont make them like they used to.

• Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
• To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com

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