It has been a few seasons since the title of Horse of the Year has offered the level of suspense this year's race has provided heading into the 44th annual Eclipse Awards Saturday night.
While not as divisive as the Blame vs. Zenyatta voting in 2010, debate has nonetheless been spirited as pundits discuss whether dual classic winner California Chrome, Breeders' Cup Turf hero Main Sequence or Breeders' Cup Classic victor Bayern will take top honors when the winners in all 17 horse and human categories are announced at Gulfstream Park.
California Chrome, who along with Bayern is also up for champion 3-year-old male, has a top résumé to go along with his overwhelming popularity. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner is one of only three horses in 2014 to earn four Grade I wins, with Main Sequence and expected 3-year-old filly champion Untapable being the others.
Main Sequence, the favorite to take both champion turf male and champion older male honors, was unbeaten in his four outings last year, all coming in top-level company.
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Though it will be a challenge for him to upend his fellow sophomore standout California Chrome, Bayern went from maiden winner to Breeders' Cup Classic hero in 11 months, winning at distances from 7 furlongs to 11/4 miles.
Nicholasville-based Ken and Sarah Ramsey swept the Eclipse Awards for both Outstanding Breeder and Outstanding Owner in 2013 and are finalists again in both categories heading into Saturday.
Dayatthespa, winner of the Grade I First Lady at Keeneland prior to her Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf triumph, is expected to take champion turf female honors while trainer Wesley Ward is expected to celebrate his first champion with Judy the Beauty the pick to be named top female sprinter.
Eclipse Award finalists
Finalists for the 2014 Eclipse Awards (listed alphabetically):
Horse of the Year: Bayern, California Chrome, Main Sequence
2-year-old male: American Pharoah, Hootenanny, Texas Red
2-year-old filly: Condo Commando, Lady Eli, Take Charge Brandi
3-year-old male: Bayern, California Chrome, Shared Belief
3-year-old filly: Stopchargingmaria, Sweet Reason, Untapable
Older male: Main Sequence, Palace Malice, Wise Dan
Older female: Close Hatches, Dayatthespa, Don't Tell Sophia
Male sprinter: Goldencents, Private Zone, Work All Week
Female sprinter: Artemis Agrotera, Judy the Beauty, Sweet Reason
Male turf horse: Karakontie, Main Sequence, Wise Dan
Female turf horse: Crown Queen, Dayatthespa, Stephanie's Kitten
Steeplechase horse: Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, Makari
Owner: Kaleem Shah, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Breeder: Adena Springs, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Winchell Thoroughbreds
Trainer: Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario, John Velazquez
Apprentice jockey: Angel Cruz, Taylor Rice, Drayden Van Dyke