A Jan. 4 announcement of the finalists for the 2019 Eclipse Awards largely yielded the expected, including in the most coveted Horse of the Year category, where Bricks and Mortar, Maximum Security, and Mitole were selected by voters.
Established in 1971, the Eclipse Awards determine North American championships from Thoroughbred racehorses and individuals, as determined by votes cast by members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose voters include racing officials and Equibase representatives. Three finalists are chosen in each Eclipse classification.
Bricks and Mortar, considered the favorite for Horse of the Year, went 6-for-6 in 2019 while racing exclusively on turf; 3-year-old Maximum Security won three Grade 1s, including the Cigar Mile Handicap over older foes; and Mitole excelled as a dirt sprinter from six furlongs to a mile. Besides Horse of the Year, all three are likely to win other awards, split into different categories—all of which will be presented the evening of Jan. 23 at the 49th annual Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park.
Among championships awarded to individuals, the jockey and trainer tandem that teamed with Bricks and Mortar, Irad Ortiz, Jr. and trainer Chad Brown, were also announced as respective finalists and are widely expected to win. Both come off record-setting seasons, one in which Ortiz's mounts earned more than $34 million and Brown's stable amassed more than $31 million. Ortiz won his first Eclipse in 2018, while Brown has won three straight.
Regardless of the Horse of the Year outcome, Bricks and Mortar is a sure thing in another Eclipse Award category: male turf horse of 2019. It was in that division that he was untouchable last year, capped by a victory in the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf. He won races across the country from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles, earning $6,723,650, the largest ever for a horse that competed strictly on the grass in the U.S.
The two other Horse of the Year finalists also look poised to earn championships in the divisions in which they competed.
Mitole is a certainty to take home the male sprinter prize, having won the Breeders' Cup Sprint to conclude 2019. With a 6-for-7 record last year, he won four Grade 1 races, only one less than Bricks and Mortar. Brilliant at six furlongs in the Breeders' Cup, he also excelled at a mile when he defeated McKinzie in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.
Along with McKinzie and Longines Breeders' Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso, Mitole is also a finalist in the older dirt male category, where both he and Vino Rosso have wide support.
As reflected by the votes that landed him among the finalists for Horse of the Year, Maximum Security looks poised to win a championship for 3-year-old male.
His three Grade 1 victories last year came in the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby, the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes, and the aforementioned Cigar Mile.
It was a race he lost, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, for which he will always be remembered. That afternoon he crossed the finish in front, only to be disqualified and placed 17th by stewards for interference. Country House was elevated to first.
Other finalists for 3-year-old male are Code of Honor, winner of the Runhappy Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup before finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic; and Omaha Beach, a three-time Grade 1 winner in 2019 who took the Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Sprint Championship, and Runhappy Malibu Stakes.
As usual, many Breeders' Cup winners became Eclipse Award finalists, though not all are assured of Eclipse prizes.
Blue Prize, who upset Midnight Bisou in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff, is considered unlikely to outpoll Midnight Bisou, who went 7-for-8 in 2019. Elate, fourth against males in the Classic, is the other finalist.
The closest vote tally in an equine category could come in the female turf horse division, where Uni, Sistercharlie, and Got Stormy all turned in stellar seasons. A victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile by Uni against males may sway support in her direction.
One of the few surprises of the Eclipse finalists is the absence of Tiz the Law in the 2-year-old male category. Beaten as the favorite when third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club in the slop at Churchill Downs after winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, he was outpolled by the three finalists of Maxfield, Storm the Court, and Structor.
Storm the Court and Structor won Breeders' Cup Races, the TVG Juvenile and Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America, respectively. Maxfield was scratched due to injury in the Juvenile after winning a maiden race and the Claiborne Breeders' Futurity.
Awards honoring owner, breeder, and apprentice jockey seem the most competitive among human categories.
Gary Barber, Peter Brant, Klaravich Stables and Lawrence are the owner finalists; Calumet Farm, Godolphin, and Strawbridge top the breeder category; and Julio Correa, Angel Diaz, and Kazushi Kimura comprise the three finalists for outstanding apprentice jockey.
Of the 254 eligible voters representing the NTRA, the NTWAB, and Daily Racing Form, 241 (95%) took part in this year's voting. Finalists were determined in each category by voters' top three selections, based on a 10-5-1 scale, though Eclipse Award winners are determined solely by first-place votes.
In addition to honoring the 17 winners in the horse and human categories, Scott Coles will receive the Eclipse Award as the 2019 Horseplayer of the Year and members of the media will be honored for outstanding coverage in six categories, the winners having already been determined and announced last month.
2019 Eclipse Awards Finalists (in Alphabetical Order):
Steeplechase Horse: Brain Power, Scorpiancer, Winston C
Apprentice Jockey: Julio Correa, Angel Diaz, Kazushi Kimura