Derby and Oaks Winners Lead Eclipse Awards

The annual Eclipse Awards celebration during which Thoroughbred racing’s top honors for 2014 offered few surprises, but deserving winners took home their trophies and there was ample reasons for fans in Kentucky and Southern Indiana to cheer during Saturday’s awards ceremony at Florida’s Gulfstream Park.

Fans in our region saw the winners of Kentucky’s two biggest races take home major honors.  California Chrome, the dominant winner of the Kentucky Derby earned Eclipse Awards that honored the 3-year-old California-bred as Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old, each by lopsided voting margins. Trainer Art Sherman did a wonderful job with California Chrome and his decision finish the year with a run on grass in the Los Alamitos Derby – a terrific performance that followed a brave near-miss against fellow 3-year-old Bayern in the rough-and-tumble Breeders’ Cup Classic – helped seal his championship deal.

The grass win was impressive and allowed Chrome to join Secretariat as the only Kentucky Derby winners to subsequently earn a Grade I win on turf. That’s pretty good company.

The Horse of the Year is preparing for 2015 campaign with the goal of a big finish in Lexington when the Breeders’ Cup World Championships stop at Keeneland Race Course for the first time.

The honor for champion 3-year-old filly went to the sublime Untapable, winner of the Longines Kentucky Oaks and a sublime talent who was unbeaten against her gender in 2014.  She will return for a 4-year-old campaign for trainer Steve Asmussen that, with any luck, will include a run in the Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Weekend.

Ageless Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas raised his career total of Eclipse Award champions to 25 when, in the space of seven weeks, he guided 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi from a 61-1 long shot winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to overwhelming choice as champion of her gender and age group. After her Breeders’ Cup surprise, Take Charge Brandi shipped to Louisiana to win the Delta Princess and then traveled to Southern California’s Los Alamitos, where Lukas scored major triumphs in his days as a Quarter Horse trainer, to seal her championships with a triumph in the Grade I Starlet.

The Breeders’ Cup win by the daughter of Giant’s Causeway was a record-extending 20th for the 79-year-old Lukas, who is now working on a plan to get his newest star into the Kentucky Oaks winner’s circle.

Nicholasville’s, Ken and Sarah Ramsey earned a pair of Eclipse Awards in the categories of top owner and breeder, the second time they’ve swept those honors in the same year. The earlier weep came in 2013, and the Ramseys earned previous Eclipse honors as leading owner in 2004 and 2011.

Prior to their big night in Miami, the Ramseys’ International Star scored a mild surprise in winning the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds and placed his name in a prominent start on the list of major early contenders for the Kentucky Derby.  International Star is now tied for the top spot in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” points system that will determine eligibility to compete in this year’s “Run for the Roses.”

It was a good day to be Ken and Sarah Ramsey, but one could say that just about every day.

As expected, Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah easily earned the Eclipse Award for 2-year-old champion.  American Pharoah returned to light training just after the first of the year and trainer Bob Baffert and connections hope he’ll be ready for Kentucky Derby 141.

Trainer Graham Motion’s Main Sequence, a winner of four consecutive Grade I turf races, was a solid choice for top older male, as was the Bill Mott-trained Close Hatches, the year’s best older female. Top Sprinter Work All Week and Judy the Beauty were good choices in perhaps the most wide-open divisions.

Main Sequence was an easy choice as turf champion, as was female counterpart Dayatthespa.

Jockey Javier Castellano and Apprentice Jockey winner Drayden Van Dyke were easy and deserving winners in their human categories, and Todd Pletcher earned his seventh “Outstanding Trainer” trophy after another year of statistical dominance. Runner-up Chad Brown would also have been a good choice for a first Eclipse as top trainer, but his time will soon come. VT