Commentary

Eclipse award quandaries

A lot can happen on the road to becoming a champion

Updated: October 2, 2013, 5:29 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

Don't look now but, depending on what happens in the Breeders' Cup, this year's Eclipse Awards very well could present voters with some of the most difficult decisions they have ever had to face.

How about these for what ifs:

Wise Dan and Game on Dude both win their respective Breeders' Cup races? If that happens both would end the year with 6-for-6 records and four Grade 1 wins. You also have to deal with the incumbency factor. Wise Dan would be a reigning Horse of the Year who went undefeated the following year. Can you possibly dethrone him? The answer is, yes. Traditionally, Horse of the Year goes to the most outstanding dirt male, 3 or older. Those are the glamour divisions and Horse of the Year only falls outside those categories when there is no dominating candidate. Should he end the year undefeated while winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Pacific Classic and the Hollywood Gold Cup Game on Dude would have to be Horse of the Year. Sorry, Wise Dan.

A 3-year-old does not win the Breeders' Cup Classic? What a mess this division has been. The Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell and Travers were won by five separate horses as no one seemed to want to take control of the division. With wins in the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, Orb seemed destined to win the championship by default. But he lost all four starts since the Derby and was awful in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and now he won't even start in the Breeders' Cup. He's run himself out of the running. With wins in the Travers and the Pennsylvania Derby, Will Take Charge has emerged as the top 3-year-old male, but he's won only one Grade I this year and lost by a combined 45 ¼ lengths in the Triple Crown races. Normally when voting I don't give horses credit for anything but wins, but may make an exception and vote for Will Take Charge or Palace Malice if they run respectfully in the Classic. If not, I will have no idea what to do.

What if Beholder wins the Breeders' Cup Distaff? Conventional wisdom was that Princess of Sylmar had the 3-year-old filly championship in the bag and that was before she beat Royal Delta in the Beldame. But does she? Princess of Sylmar will not run in the Distaff, meaning she will end her year with six wins from seven starts, four Grade 1 wins and a win over Royal Delta. Should Beholder win the Distaff she will end her year with five wins from seven starts, four Grade Is and a win over Royal Delta, presumably in the Distaff. Extra credit would go to Princess of Sylmar for beating Beholder in their only meeting, in the Kentucky Oaks. Extra credit would go to Beholder for winning the biggest filly race on the calendar, the Distaff. I'm sticking with Princess of Sylmar no matter what happens in the Breeders' Cup. The head to head matchup in the Kentucky Oaks would be, to me, the deciding factor.

What if Wayne Lukas has a big day? Let's suppose Strong Mandate wins the Juvenile and Will Take Charge wins the Breeders' Cup Classic or even if just Will Take Charge win, might Lukas deserve consideration for Trainer of the Year? Lukas, thus far, has won only 22 races all year and his winning percentage is a modest 10 percent. But we could be looking at a year where he won the Preakness, the Travers, the Hopeful, the Pennsylvania Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic while writing the greatest comeback story in the annals of the sport at age 78.

Lukas will no doubt get some votes. No matter what transpires in the Breeders' Cup, I'll likely vote for Todd Pletcher, whose numbers, as always, are too huge to be ignored.

Super Saturday Recap: Was there any reason to expect that Ron the Greek would annihilate his competition in the Gold Cup? I sure didn't see it. Sometimes this game can drive you mad&Royal Delta has deserved all the accolades she has gotten, but let's not forget that she has a lot of off days. The Beldame was her third loss this year from six starts. And talk about head scratchers, what chance would you have given that Little Mike would not only rebound in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic but win from well off the pace? Maybe he's changed and doesn't want to be on the lead anymore.

• 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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