by NYRA Press Office
The finalists for the 2018 Eclipse Awards, recognizing excellence in thoroughbred racing, were announced on Saturday, led by Belmont Stakes winner and Triple Crown champion Justify.
Once again, the path to year-end honors weaved its way through the New York Racing Association (NYRA) circuit, with multiple New York-based connections and key performances in NYRA races among the finalists.
Justify, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert for owners China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing, and WinStar Farm, is a finalist in both the Horse of the Year and Three-Year-Old Male categories. In June, the Scat Daddy chestnut brought a roaring Belmont crowd to its feet as Justify became just the 13th Triple Crown winner in racing history.
New York-based conditioner Chad Brown, a finalist as Outstanding Trainer, is represented by his Eclipse Award finalists Newspaperofrecord (Two-Year-Old Filly), Rushing Fall (Three-Year-Old Filly), A Raving Beauty (Turf Female) and Sistercharlie (Turf Female).
Brown's year was highlighted by his record-breaking summer meet at Saratoga Race Course in which he won the H. Allen Jerkens training title with 46 victories, shattering his own previous high-water mark of 40 set in 2016. Brown also won individual meet titles at the Aqueduct spring, Belmont Park spring/summer, and Belmont fall meets.
Seven of Brown's 20 Grade 1 wins for the year came at NYRA tracks, including stellar performances by Patternrecognition in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, Complexity in the Champagne, Wow Cat in the Beldame and Fourstar Crook in the Flower Bowl at Belmont.
Turf Female finalist Sistercharlie won three Grade 1s in 2018 with scores in the Diana at Saratoga to go along with wins in the Beverly D at Arlington Park and the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, at Churchill Downs.
Separationofpowers boosted her Eclipse credentials with a victory in the Grade 1 Longines Test at Saratoga, while Turf Female finalist A Raving Beauty arrived in New York from her native Germany to win the Grade 3 Beaugay before establishing her class with a win in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game, both at Belmont.
Rushing Fall, who won the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in 2017, returned to New York to win the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga to earn a berth in the Three-Year-Old Filly category.
Flashy juvenile Newspaperofrecord, perfect in three starts, graduated at Saratoga in August before winning the Grade 2 Miss Grillo at Belmont. She capped her season with an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf to garner attention as an Eclipse finalist for Two-Year-Old Filly.
Brown is joined as finalist in the Trainer category by Baffert and Steve Asmussen, who runs a considerable New York string annually.
New York-based riders Irad Ortiz, Jr and Jose Ortiz were named finalists in the Jockey category alongside Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Ortiz, Jr. was North America's leading rider by wins for a second consecutive year in 2018, notching 346 wins in 1,616 starts, finishing 60 victories ahead of the next-closest competitor in Timothy Thornton. The 26-year-old posted 30 graded stakes wins, including six Grade 1 wins. Among his numerous highlights were winning rides aboard Diversify in the Grade 1 Whitney, A Raving Beauty in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game and Fourstar Crook in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl.
Ortiz, Jr., who also led all North American riders with earnings of $27,727,039, won a pair of Breeders' Cup races at Churchill Downs in November, piloting Newspaperofrecord in the Juvenile Fillies Turf and Shamrock Rose in the Filly and Mare Sprint.
On the NYRA circuit, Ortiz, Jr. won four individual meet titles, capturing the Aqueduct spring, Belmont spring/summer, Belmont fall and the Angel Cordero, Jr. riding title at Saratoga. The native of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico won 21 percent of his starts overall on the year and his horses finished in the money at a 54 percent clip.
Ortiz won 264 races from 1,513 starts, good for fourth most among North American jockeys, and his $26,801,159 in earnings was second. Ortiz won 35 graded stakes and an impressive 10 Grade 1s. The 25-year-old won at least one Grade 1 at every NYRA track, including aboard Patternrecognition in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct; Eskimo Kisses in the Alabama and Separationofpowers in the Longines Test at Saratoga; Complexity in the Champagne, Channel Maker in the Jose Hirsch Turf Classic, and Wow Cat in the Beldame at Belmont.
Ortiz, the 2017 Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Jockey, earned second-place finishes in two of the three legs during Justify's Triple Crown win, earning runner-up with Good Magic in the Kentucky Derby and with Gronkowski in the Belmont Stakes.
Reylu Gutierrez, who picked up his first stakes win on the NYRA circuit a week ago with Not That Brady in the Damon Runyonat Aqueduct, is a finalist in the Apprentice Jockey category. A native of Rochester, N.Y., Gutierrez won 109 races from 843 starts in 2018.
Longstanding New York owner Peter Brant is a finalist in the Owner category. The 71-year-old teamed with Brown to win nine graded stakes in 2018. Sistercharlie compiled four of Brant's six Grade 1 wins as an owner, capturing the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Jenny Wiley, Beverly D., and the Diana, held at Saratoga. Raging Bull [Hollywood Derby] and Fog of War [Summer] also won Grade 1 stakes.
Brant's year saw him return to the upper echelon of successful owners, building on a successful past that included notable victories in the 1970s and 80s, when he campaigned legends such legends as Just a Game, Waya and Gulch, who ran third in the 1987 Belmont Stakes and won the 1988 Breeders' Cup Sprint. As a solo owner, Brant was credited with 20 wins, 15 second-place finishes and 12 third-place efforts in 75 starts for earnings of $4,166,362 in 2018.
Catholic Boy (Three-Year-Old Male), trained by New York-based Jonathan Thomas, demonstrated talent on turf and dirt winning the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on the green ahead of a sensational score in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers at Saratoga.
Many of the Eclipse Award finalists boosted their credentials with the help of victories in key NYRA races.
Horse of the Year and Three-Year-Old Filly finalist Monomoy Girl won the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont and the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks ahead of her victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Marley's Freedom (Older Dirt Female, Female Sprinter) demonstrated her class with a win in the Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina at Saratoga and returned to New York in December to take the Grade 3 Go For Wand Handicap at Aqueduct.
Imperial Hint reeled off a hat trick of graded stakes wins in New York winning the Grade 2 True North at Belmont before stepping up at the top flight with wins in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont.
Midnight Bisou (Three-Year-Old Filly) won the Grade 2 Mother Goose at Belmont and hit the board in both the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks and Grade 1 Alabama at Saratoga.
Abel Tasman (Older Dirt Female) took a pair of Grade 1 races on the NYRA circuit including the Ogden Phipps at Belmont and the Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
Glorious Empire (Turf Male) rose to prominence at Saratoga with wins in the Grade 2 Bowling Green and Grade 1 Sword Dancer.
Finley'sluckycharm (Female Sprinter) won the Grade 1 Honorable Miss at Saratoga
Jaywalk (Two-Year-Old Filly), trained by John Servis, won the G1 Frizette at Belmont.
Optimus Prime (FR) and Zanjabeel (GB), stablemates for trainer Rick Hendricks, and each finalists for Outstanding Steeplechase Horse, both picked up Grade 1 victories on the NYRA Circuit with Optimus Prime (FR) winning the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap at Saratoga and Zanjabeel (GB) capturing the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory at Belmont.
Winners in 17 Eclipse categories will be announced at the 48th annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony on January 24 at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
The 2018 Eclipse Award finalists (in alphabetical order) are:
Horse of the Year: Accelerate, Justify, Monomoy Girl
Two-Year-Old Male: Game Winner, Improbable, Knicks Go
Two-Year-Old Filly: Bellafina, Jaywalk, Newspaperofrecord (IRE)
Three-Year-Old Male: Catholic Boy, Justify, McKinzie
Three-Year-Old Filly: Midnight Bisou, Monomoy Girl, Rushing Fall
Older Dirt Male: Accelerate, City of Light, Gun Runner
Older Dirt Female: Abel Tasman, Marley's Freedom, Unique Bella
Male Sprinter: Imperial Hint, Roy H, Stormy Liberal
Female Sprinter: Finley'sluckycharm, Marley's Freedom, Shamrock Rose
Male Turf Horse: Expert Eye (GB); Glorious Empire (IRE), Stormy Liberal
Female Turf Horse: A Raving Beauty (GER), Enable (GB), Sistercharlie (IRE)
Steeplechase Horse: Jury Duty (IRE), Optimus Prime (FR), Zanjabeel (GB)
Owner: Peter Brant; Hronis Racing LLC; WinStar Farm, China Horse Club, Starlight Racing and Head of Plains Partners
Breeder: Mike Abraham, John D. Gunther, WinStar Farm, LLC
Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr., Jose Ortiz, Mike Smith
Apprentice Jockey: Reylu Gutierrez, Weston Hamilton, Edgar Morales