The success of Gun Runner on the track in 2017 translated into Eclipse Award finalist recognition for he and many of those connected to him when the top three vote getters in all 17 divisions, both human and equine, were announced on Friday.
Gun Runner — winner of 5 of 6 starts last year, most notably the Breeders’ Cup Classic — is the overwhelming favorite to be named both Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male when the Eclipse Award winners are announced at a gala dinner at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 25. And while his trainer, Steve Asmussen, owner, Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys Farm, and breeder, Besilu Stables, all are likely facing uphill battles in their respective divisions, all being finalists in those divisions is emblematic of Gun Runner standing tallest in 2017.
In addition to Gun Runner, the other finalists for Horse of the Year are Arrogate, the Dubai World Cup winner, and the male turf horse World Approval, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Arrogate is also a finalist against Gun Runner for champion older dirt male, along with Collected, the Pacific Classic winner and Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up.
Asmussen and Bob Baffert, the trainer of Arrogate and Collected, are finalists for champion trainer, but the favorite in that category is the other finalist, Chad Brown, who won more money, more graded stakes, and more Grade 1 stakes than any other trainer last year. Brown was the Eclipse Award-winning trainer in 2016.
In addition to Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys, the other finalists for champion owner are Juddmonte Farms, which owns Arrogate and female sprint finalist Paulassilverlining, and Godolphin Racing, which won two Breeders’ Cup races and tied with Juddmonte for most graded stakes wins in North America last year. Those not making the top three included Live Oak Plantation, which raced Horse of the Year finalist World Approval, and Sol Kumin, who is involved in several partnerships and whose accomplishments were disseminated by the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association to its members, something not afforded anyone else.
In addition to Besilu, the other finalists for champion breeder are Clearsky Farms, which bred Arrogate and 3-year-old filly finalist Abel Tasman, and WinStar Farm, which led all breeders in graded stakes wins in 2017. Those three breeders tied for the most Grade 1 wins in North America last year, with four each.
The only entity connected to Gun Runner who is not an Eclipse Award finalist is his jockey, Florent Geroux, who couldn’t crack a strong trio of finalists in four-time reigning champ Javier Castellano, Jose Ortiz, and Mike Smith, who won more Grade 1 races than any jockey last year. Ortiz, who won more money than any rider in the country in 2017, is favored to win his first Eclipse Award.
The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the NTWAB, Daily Racing Form, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Of the 269 eligible voters, 250 returned ballots. Voters are tasked with naming their top three in each division. The finalists are determined on a point system – 10 for first, 5 for second, 1 for third – but the winner in each category is strictly the one who receives the most first-place votes. The top three in each division were announced at noon Eastern on Friday on TVG.
World Approval making the top three for Horse of the Year likely tips off the winner of champion male turf horse, in which he is a finalist against Beach Patrol and Talismanic.
Lady Eli could get a long-overdue Eclipse Award as champion female turf horse, a category in which she is a finalist along with Off Limits and Wuheida.
West Coast, who finished off the year strongly with victories in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby, is the favorite to be named champion 3-year-old male over Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming and Battle of Midway, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile against elders. Not making the top three was the turf specialist Oscar Performance, who tied with Always Dreaming and West Coast for the most Grade 1 wins among 3-year-old males last year with two.
Abel Tasman, the Kentucky Oaks winner, is the favorite to be named champion 3-year-old filly against fellow finalists Elate and Unique Bella. Among those not making the top three was Paradise Woods, who won as many Grade 1 races as Elate, like Elate owned a victory against elders, and finished in front of Elate in their lone head-to-head meeting in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Unique Bella is also a finalist for champion female sprinter against Paulassilverlining and Bar of Gold, who beat both Paulassilverlining and Unique Bella when scoring a 66-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Not making the top three was Ami’s Mesa, beaten a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and winner of her other four starts.
Roy H, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is the heavy favorite to be named champion male sprinter against fellow finalists Imperial Hint and Mind Your Biscuits, both of whom Roy H defeated in the Breeders’ Cup.
Similarly, in the older female dirt category, Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Forever Unbridled looks like a slam dunk against fellow finalists Songbird and Stellar Wind.
The 2-year-old filly division includes two Breeders’ Cup winners, with Juvenile Fillies heroine Caledonia Road facing Rushing Fall, who captured the Juvenile Fillies Turf. The third finalist is two-time Grade 1 winner Moonshine Memories.
Good Magic, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is a finalist for champion 2-year-old male along with two-time Grade 1 winner Bolt d’Oro and Solomini, who was second to Good Magic in the Breeders’ Cup and second to Bolt d’Oro in the FrontRunner. Not making the top three was the unbeaten McKinzie, placed first in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity on the disqualification of Solomini.
Evin Roman, who led the nation’s apprentice jockeys in victories and purse earnings while winning titles on the Southern California circuit, is the favorite to be named champion apprentice over fellow finalists Katie Clawson and Hector Rafael Diaz Jr.
The steeplechase finalists are All the Way Jose, Mr. Hot Stuff, and Scorpiancer, each of whom won a Grade 1 race last year. Not making the top three in this wide-open division were Grade 1 winners Diplomat and Swansea Mile, and the consistent Modem, who finished second while carrying top weight in all four of his Grade 1 appearances in this country after arriving from Ireland.