Demonstrative, Divine Fortune lead steeplechase Eclipse race

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This time of year, racing is about opinions. They’re like ears, everybody has them, and some stick out more than others. Who’s your Horse of the Year? I tell ya who I’d vote for… Who’s your 3-year-old of the year? You know, it really ought to be… Champion jockey? It’s gotta be… Champion trainer? No doubt about it, it’ll be…

But you don’t read much about who people think should be steeplechase champion. Well, you hear it from steeplechase people but not from many others. Just like it has categories 2-year-old fillies and sprinters and turf females, the Eclipse Award ballot has a category for champion steeplechaser. The jumpers are Thoroughbreds after all and somebody wise back in the 1970s (maybe the 1980s) and did away with a special committee – preferring instead to let the Eclipse voters make educated decisions.

Of course, numerous voters abstain but it’s still better to be part of the system than to invent your own.

In the interests of giving people some options to compare, several horses made the 2014 Eclipse ballot and whether you vote or not it’s a fun way to look back at some nice horses and this year, thanks to HCP Sports, NYRA and the magic of the Internet there’s video evidence to help.

In alphabetical order, the major players are:

Address Unknown. English import was bred by Juddmonte Farms (you’ve heard of it, right?) and is related to Commander In Chief, Warning, Dushyantor and all kinds of other stars. The 7-year-old was a beast in English and Irish staying flat races before being imported as a jump prospect by leading owner Irv Naylor. Won his first two starts – a maiden at Fair Hill over All The Way Jose and an allowance at Monmouth Park. Finished second in Saratoga novice stakes and then won a similar race at Belmont Park in September. Scratched at Far Hills because trainer Cyril Murphy was concerned about soft turf. Strong year for novice with two wins and two seconds in four starts, all in restricted company.

 

All The Way Jose. He wins for best name as he’s by Senor Swinger out of Maternity Leave (breeder Jonathan Sheppard and his wife Cathy get an A for that one). Four-year-old won three and finished second in three others during a six-start season. Won maiden at Parx, allowance at Saratoga and novice stakes at Far Hills. Great season, but did not run in open company.

 

Decoy Daddy. What a horse. Undefeated in three starts during 12-year-old campaign for Naylor and trainer Cyril Murphy. Not quite a Grade 1 horse, but tough as they come. Won Noel Laing (for fourth time), Temple Gwathmey (for third time) and National Hunt Cup (for second time). Irish import who raced for Paddy Kehoe and trainer Tony Mullins is approaching $500,000 in career earnings. Perfect year deserves an award, probably not Eclipse.

 

Demonstrative. Plenty of people voted for him in 2012, but he lost in a photo to Pierrot Lunaire. Righted himself after disappointing 2013 to win three of six with a second and a third in nothing but Grade 1 starts. Led all jumpers with $362,500 earned (second highest in history) in 2014. Finished in front of chief rival Divine Fortune three times, lost to him twice. Like Address Unknown, connected to flat-racing royalty as product of Gainsborough Farm breeding program. Son of Elusive Quality passed $800,000 in career earnings for Jacqueline Ohrstrom and trainer Richard Valentine. Turned in performance of the year in Grand National, year’s richest race at $250,000. Superb year and the Eclipse favorite.

 

Divine Fortune. The 2013 champion bookended his season with Grade 1 wins and standout performances, winning the Iroquois in May and the Colonial Cup in November. Three starts in between included a pull-up in the Smithwick at Saratoga and a fall in the Lonesome Glory at Belmont. Second to Demonstrative in Grand National. Gallant season at 11 for Sheppard and Bill Pape. Chief contender with Demonstrative.