by Jay Privman
ARCADIA, Calif. – Knicks Go went right to the front in his races, and as he did in races like the Breeders’ Cup Classic he led his rivals on another futile chase in the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night at Santa Anita. He romped to clear-cut victories as 2021 Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male while bringing his jockey and trainer along for the ride.
Joel Rosario, who rode Knicks Go, at long last won his first Eclipse Award, and Brad Cox, Knicks Go’s trainer, repeated as champion trainer after getting his first title in 2020.
Cox also saw his trainee Essential Quality, the 2020 champion 2-year-old male, prevail as champion 3-year-old male.
Godolphin Racing, which bred and owns Essential Quality, was another big winner Thursday night. Godolphin, the powerhouse international operation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, was named both champion owner and champion breeder, and also took home champion male turf horse with Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Yibir.
Other divisional winners were Corniche (2-year-old male), Echo Zulu (2-year-old filly), Malathaat (3-year-old filly), Letruska (older dirt female), Jackie’s Warrior (male sprinter), Ce Ce (female sprinter), Loves Only You (female turf horse), The Mean Queen (steeplechase horse), and Jessica Pyfer (apprentice jockey).
Steve Asmussen, who trains Echo Zulu and Jackie’s Warrior, was the only trainer besides Cox to have multiple champions.
Loves Only You, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, became the first horse based in Japan to win an Eclipse Award.
Pyfer became only the third female to be named champion apprentice jockey, joining Emma-Jayne Wilson (2005) and Rosemary Homeister Jr. (1992).
The 51st annual Eclipse Awards ceremony was conducted in a temporary chalet built adjacent to the clubhouse entrance at Santa Anita. Winners were determined by the first-place votes cast in each category by the 235 of 245 eligible voters who returned ballots.
Voters are from Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose bloc includes racing secretaries at NTRA member tracks plus field personnel with Equibase.
Most of the results were fairly lopsided. The closest vote came in the female sprint category, where Ce Ce downed defending champion Gamine by 39 votes, 136-97, with two other votes going elsewhere. That outcome reflected the results of the division’s title-deciding race, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, in which Ce Ce defeated Gamine.
Knicks Go was an obvious choice for both Horse of the Year and champion older male dirt horse. He won 5 of 7 starts in 2021, bookending the season with victories in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Breeders’ Cup Classic while earning another Grade 1 win in the Whitney. He is owned by the Korea Racing Authority and was bred by Angie Moore.
Knicks Go received 228 votes for Horse of the Year to easily outpoll Letruska and Loves Only You, who each received two votes. Single votes were cast for Essential Quality, Medina Spirit, and Lil Latigo.
The vote for Lil Latigo – a horse based in New Mexico and Arizona whose lone win in 27 starts last year came in a $3,500 claimer at Arizona Downs – was one of several odd, seemingly purposeful, choices made in a number of categories. Jeremy Balan, an Eclipse Award-winning writer who now writes for bettercollective.com and votes via his membership in the NTWAB, admitted on Twitter on Friday that he had made those selections and confirmed the theory that the votes were for horses who made the most starts in those divisions, irrespective of accomplishment.
Knicks Go got 232 of the 235 votes for champion older dirt male. Two votes went to Maxfield, who won the Clark Stakes two starts after finishing a distant second to Knicks Go in the Whitney, and one to Lil Latigo.
Rosario got 213 first-place votes for champion jockey to finish well in front of runner-up Irad Ortiz Jr., the three-time defending riding champion, with single votes going to Paco Lopez, Flavien Prat, and Luis Saez. Two voters abstained.
Cox got 189 first-place votes for champion trainer to easily outpoll Asmussen, who got 33 votes. Others receiving votes included Charlie Appleby (3), Bob Baffert, and Chad Brown (two each), and Karl Broberg, Michael McCarthy, and Todd Pletcher, each of whom received a single vote. Three voters abstained.
Appleby trains champion Yibir, Baffert trains Corniche, McCarthy trains Ce Ce, and Pletcher trains Malathaat.
Essential Quality won his second title on the strength of victories in races like the Belmont Stakes and Travers. He received 131 first-place votes for champion 3-year-old male to 84 for runner-up Medina Spirit, who finished in front of Essential Quality in their two meetings, the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, but whose Derby victory could be overturned owing to a medication violation. Life Is Good, the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner, was third with 18 votes, and single votes were cast for Hot Rod Charlie, the Pennsylvania Derby winner, and Hurricane Nation, an Ohio-based gelding whose lone win in 20 starts last year came in an allowance race at Thistledown.
Godolphin easily prevailed as champion owner and breeder.
For owner, Godolphin received 216 first-place votes. Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables was second with seven. Broberg’s End Zone Athletics and the Korea Racing Authority got two votes each, and single votes were cast for Calumet Farm, the Roth family’s LNJ Foxwoods, and St. George Stable, which campaigns Letruska. Four voters abstained.
For breeder, Godolphin got 205 votes to eight for runner-up Calumet. Moore was third with seven, then came Stonestreet (6) and Gail Rice (3), the breeder of Medina Spirit; with single votes to Nick Alexander, the partnership of Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding, and Spendthrift Farm. There were three abstentions.
Yibir gave Godolphin its second equine divisional title, nailing down male turf horse over another Godolphin runner, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Space Blues. Yibir got 135 first-place votes, with Domestic Spending and Space Blues finishing in a tie for second with 33. Grade 1 stakes winners Golden Pal (14), Colonel Liam (11), Smooth Like Strait (6), and Town Cruise (1) also received votes. Two voters abstained.
The nearest divisional sweep came for 2-year-old filly, with Echo Zulu, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, receiving 233 of the 235 votes. Single votes were cast for Twilight Gleaming, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, and Baytown Valleygirl, whose lone win in 14 starts came against maidens at Mountaineer.
It was closer, but not really close, for Asmussen’s other champion, Jackie’s Warrior, whose overall body of work carried him to the male sprint title with 110 votes compared to 50 for second-place Aloha West, who won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at the expense of Jackie’s Warrior. Flightline was third with 33, followed by Golden Pal (19), Dr. Schivel (18), and single votes for Extravagant Kid and Life Is Good. Three voters abstained.
Similarly, Letruska was given an understandable mulligan for her flop in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, her four Grade 1 wins during a barnstorming tour carrying her to the older dirt female title with 221 votes. Marche Lorraine, upset winner of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, was second with 11 votes, and single votes went to Gamine, Monomoy Girl, and Damisela, who was 0 for 27 last year against low-level claimers in West Virginia.
The unbeaten Corniche, who capped his year with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was an easy winner as champion 2-year-old male, receiving 214 first-place votes to 12 for runner-up Jack Christopher. Modern Games, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and Tiz the Bomb, parimutuel winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, each received two votes, with single votes for Gunite and Frosty Storm, the latter an 0-for-14 maiden whose final 11 starts last year were at Mountaineer. Three voters abstained.
Malathaat, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, Ashland, and Alabama, easily prevailed as champion 3-year-old filly with 227 votes. Going Global (3) and Shantisara (2) were next, with single votes for Bella Sofia, Santa Barbara, and Eida’s Storm, whose lone win in 23 starts last year came against maidens at Mountaineer.
Loves Only You’s victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf over War Like Goddess was the deciding factor in that division, with voters preferring her by 136-70. Santa Barbara was next with 10 votes, followed by Going Global (6), Althiqa (5), and Shantisara (2), with single votes for Con Lima, My Sister Nat, and Regal Glory. Three voters abstained.
The Mean Queen, a three-time Grade 1 winner, easily captured the steeplechase title with 210 votes to two for Snap Decision. There were 23 voters who abstained in this division.
Pyfer also won by a comfortable margin in the apprentice jockey category, with 156 votes to 46 for John Hiraldo, and 12 for Charlie Marquez. There were 21 abstentions.
Also Thursday, Earle Mack received the Eclipse Award of Merit, and Justin Mustari received an Eclipse Award as the 2021 Horseplayer of the Year.
The awards for Mack and Mustari were previously announced, as were the media winners, who also received their awards Thursday. The media winners were Sandra McKee of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred for feature/commentary writing; Eric Mitchell of The Blood-Horse for news/enterprise writing, NBC Sports for both live television programming and best feature; Matthew Taylor, Peter Thomas Fornatale Jr., and Naomi Tukker of attheraces.com for audio/multi-media internet; and Jeff Faughender of the Louisville Courier-Journal for photography.