Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome beat out Bayern and Main Sequence to win the Eclipse Award for ‘Horse of the Year’. The popular and charismatic California-bred also won the award for ‘Three Year Old of the Year’ at the 44th Annual Eclipse Awards Dinner at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, January 17.
California Chrome took the most ballots from ‘Horse of the Year’ voters, easily surpassing the vote total of runner-up Main Sequence. California Chrome received 143 votes with Main Sequence getting 53 and Bayern 36. Other vote-getters were Shared Belief (12) Untapable (11), Wise Dan (6), Adelaide (1), and Take Charge Brandi (1). Two voters abstained. In the voting for the top three-year-old it was Chrome by a landslide–he had 193 votes to second place Bayern’s 56. Shared Belief took 15 votes and there was one voter abstention.
The first California-bred ‘Horse of the Year’ since Tiznow in 2000, California Chrome was the only horse to win Grade 1 races on both dirt and turf. His turf win in the Hollywood Derby was especially impressive given that he’d never competed on grass before. His dirt wins were all in very high profile races–the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Santa Anita Derby. California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, finished third in the ‘trainer of the year’ balloting with 45 votes. Todd Pletcher won with 100 votes finishing ahead of second place Chad Brown, who won three Breeders’ Cup races. The selection of Pletcher–who won the award for the 7th time–raised some eyebrows due to his relatively weak performance in the rest of the awards. His best finish in the divisional awards was Palace Malice, who finished second in the balloting for best older male horse.
Horse racing in general and the Eclipse Awards in particular have been criticized for their insular, self-serving nature. There’s a history of the awards for owner, breeder and trainer being more a function of ‘who you know’ instead of a validation of performance on the race track. Despite California Chrome’s ‘Horse of the Year’ win his connections didn’t fare particularly well–in addition to trainer Sherman’s third place finish owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn finished 6th in the owner category and fifth in the breeder voting.