Eclipse finalists build anticipation for Horse of the Year vote

Animal Kingdom and John Velazquez, winners of the Kentucky Derby, are finalists but trainer Graham Motion is not.
Animal Kingdom and John Velazquez, winners of the Kentucky Derby, are finalists but trainer Graham Motion is not.

After a racing season full of inconsistent returns, results went mostly according to form when finalists in 16 divisions for the 2011 Eclipse Awards were announced Thursday.

With few exceptions, the top three in each division recognizing excellence in Thoroughbred racing were devoid of drama as star filly Havre de Grace and fellow Grade I winners Acclamation and Cape Blanco were among the contenders in their respective ranks.

Of the 267 eligible voters representing the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, 248 (92.88 percent) took part in this year's voting. Finalists for the 41st annual Eclipse Awards were determined in each category by voters' top three selections, using a 10-5-1 points basis with winners determined solely by first-place votes.

Finalists in the Horse of the Year category will not be announced until the night of the ceremony, which will take place Jan. 16 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Havre de Grace, Acclamation and Cape Blanco were the only horses in North America to win three Grade I races in 2011 and are expected to vie for that top honor.

Acclamation, winner of five graded stakes in 2011, is a finalist for both champion older male and champion turf male. Cape Blanco is a finalist in the turf male category while Havre de Grace and her rival Blind Luck are both up for champion older female.

One of the most contentious divisions all season was 3-year-old male as Caleb's Posse and The Factor were the only sophomore males to win two Grade I races in 2011. While Caleb's Posse is indeed a finalist in the category along with Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, voters made Preakness Stakes hero Shackleford a finalist over The Factor, who also failed to get enough votes to crack the top three for champion male sprinter.

The last time a horse with only one Grade I victory during the calendar year won champion 3-year-old male was Prairie Bayou in 1993. Prairie Bayou won that year's Preakness Stakes before suffering a fatal breakdown in the Belmont Stakes.

Caleb's Posse, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, is the only horse other than Acclamation up for two divisional honors as the son of Posse is also a finalist for male sprinter along with Breeders' Cup Sprint victor Amazombie and Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready.

Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner Royal Delta is a heavy favorite to take home champion 3-year-old filly honors while Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies heroine My Miss Aurelia is considered a lock for the 2-year-old filly award.

Voting for champion 2-year-old male could be tight, however, between Grade I winner Union Rags and undefeated Hansen, who defeated the former in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Creative Cause is also a finalist for that honor.

Nicholasville-based owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey are up for both outstanding owner and outstanding breeder. Adena Springs has won six of the last seven Eclipse Awards for outstanding breeder and is a finalist again in that category.

Though Team Valor, which campaigns Animal Kingdom, is among the top three for outstanding owner, the operation's conditioner, Graham Motion, was among the surprise omissions from this year's finalists in the depth-laden category of leading trainer.

In addition to earning his first Kentucky Derby triumph, Motion had a career year where he was fifth in the nation in earnings and third overall with 19 graded stakes wins, but was bypassed in favor of Bob Baffert, Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher.

Pletcher earned his fifth Eclipse Award in the category last season and led all trainers in 2011 in earnings ($17,186,956) and graded stakes victories (43).

Ramon Dominguez, who won his first Eclipse Award for outstanding jockey last year, is a finalist again this season along with two-time winner John Velazquez and Javier Castellano.