Just down the road from the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel, site of tonight's Eclipse Awards dinner, is beautiful downtown Burbank and the world-famous studio where the “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” was produced for many wonderful years after Carson and his entourage moved West from New York City. (I'll bet NBC executives wish Johnny were still around today, given the problems the network is currently experiencing with the “Tonight Show” franchise.)
One of the most famous “Tonight Show” characters was Carnac the Magnificent, the all-knowing soothsayer and divine psychic who provided answers to questions contained in “hermetically sealed envelopes kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnalls porch since noon that day.”
I'm no Carnac, and I'm far from magnificent, but I do know where Funk & Wagnalls live. So, after peering into the mayonnaise jar, here are my fearless predictions for tonight's Eclipse Awards:
– Lookin At Lucky, 2-year-old male
PRETTY, KINDA SURE WINNERS
– Kodiak Kowboy, male sprinter
– Juddmonte Farms, breeder
Kodiak Kowboy and Zensational each won three Grade 1 races in 2009, though two factors are going against Zensational: 1) the suspicion is that he beat up on the same horses in all three races; and 2) he was not really a factor in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, his biggest test of the year. Kodiak Kowboy was forced to miss the Sprint after getting sick before the race, but he bounced back with a strong win in the Cigar Mile Handicap later in November. But is a one-turn mile really a sprint?
I'm going against my best judgment in picking Juddmonte, since it is the most deserving candidate among the three finalists as outstanding breeder. Voters usually don't get this one right, but I'm counting on this year being an aberration.
– Gio Ponti, older male
– Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss, outstanding owner
– Ramon Dominguez, outstanding jockey
– Luis Saez, outstanding apprentice jockey
Where is Carnac when I need him?
Eclipse Award voters don't like giving the older male championship to turf horses or sprinters, but I think the addition of synthetic surfaces over the last few years has blurred the distinction somewhat. Gio Ponti clearly had the best year of the three finalists (Einstein and Kodiak Kowboy are the others), but I think he is still thought of as a turf horse, so there is a built-in resistance against him by some voters. But Einstein's two victories were turf and synthetics, so he's not a “dirt” horse, either, and Kodiak Kowboy's wins were all at a mile or less. If there was ever a year to not give out the award in this division, this might be it.
I've written about the split personality that Eclipse Award voters have shown in the outstanding owner category, sometimes giving the award to the owner with the most wins and money won and occasionally to the owner with one “big horse.” There is no definition. In my opinion, the outstanding owner of 2009 was the Godolphin/Darley entity of Sheikh Mohammed, but I think I'm in the minority here, and voters are likely to go with the feel-good story of the year and support Zenyatta's owners, Jerry and Ann Moss.
Handicapping the jockey race is more about handicapping the voters. New Yorkers and East Coasters will vote en masse for Ramon Dominguez, Midwesterners for Julien Leparoux and Californians for Garrett Gomez. Any of the three are deserving, but I'll give the slight edge to Dominguez. On the apprentice front, I don't have a clue, and the information provided voters is so useless there should be consideration given to eliminating this category.
AND FINALLY, HORSE OF THE YEAR GOES TO …
But back to the issue at hand. Rachel Alexandra will win Horse of the Year because of her historic campaign that had her beating members of her own age and sex by a furlong; taking the Preakness over the Kentucky Derby winner; taking the Haskell Invitational over the Belmont and eventual Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner; and beating older horses in the Woodward. It was a remarkable campaign. I don't think the vote will be that close, either.
My vote would have gone to Zenyatta, however, despite everything Rachel Alexandra did. I believe in the Breeders' Cup being the most definitive event in determining champions, and think that what Zenyatta did in beating a world-class field of males at a mile and a quarter in the Classic trumps Rachel Alexandra – barely.
Wouldn't it be nice if the 2010 Horse of the Year title is settled on the racetrack.
I hope you'll check back tonight, for my live blog of the Eclipse Awards telecast from Beverly Hills. If you decide not to, as Carnac would say: “May the fleas of a thousand camels nest in your shorts.”
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