Will a male dirt horse win Horse of the Year for the first time in six years?
We won’t know until the Eclipse Awards ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 17, but the opportunity for that streak to continue exists.
Finalists for the 44th annual Eclipse Awards were announced on Wednesday, and the three Horse of the Year candidates include two dirt 3-year-old males, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern.
The group is rounded out by Main Sequence, who was undefeated in four starts, all Grade I on the turf, including the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
If California Chrome or Bayern wins, it would be the first time since Curlin in 2008 that a male dirt horse got the honor.
Since then, three females, Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta and Havre de Grace, were Horse of the Year, followed by turf superstar Wise Dan the last two. Wise Dan, undefeated this year, may have been in a position to make it three straight, but he missed some time because of emergency colic surgery.
Of the 280 voters from three organizations — the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Daily Racing Form — 265 submitted ballots. Finalists were determined on a 10-5-1 point basis.
California Chrome had an undefeated 2014 campaign stopped when he failed to win the Belmont Stakes and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. After finishing a close third to Bayern in the BC Classic, he won the Grade I Hollywood Derby on the turf on Nov. 29.
Bayern’s up-and-down season included a 10th-place finish, 20 lengths behind V.E. Day, in the Travers at Saratoga.
Main Sequence also raced at Saratoga, winning the Sword Dancer by a head over Imagining.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown is one of three finalists for the trainer Eclipse, along with six-time winner Todd Pletcher and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Brown won three turf races at the Breeders’ Cup.
Finalists for top jockey are Javier Castellano, Joel Rosario and John Velazquez.
Besides California Chrome and Bayern, the third finalist for 3-year-old male is Shared Belief, whose only loss was a fourth as the betting favorite in a Breeders’ Cup Classic memorable for the bumper-car action out of the starting gate.
RIP THUNDER RUMBLE
Thunder Rumble, who in 1992 became the first New York-bred to win the Travers since 1867, died on Monday at Old Friends at Cabin Creek in Greenfield Center due to complications from colic.
He had been one of the star attractions at the retirement farm since 2009.
Thunder Rumble, trained by the late Richard O’Connell and owned by Braeburn Farm, did his best work at Saratoga. He also won the 1992 Jim Dandy and the 1994 Saratoga Cup to pass $1 million in career earnings before finishing his career with a fifth in the Whitney.
STILL OFF BALLOT
With the the nomination process beginning and two state commission investigations still pending, trainer Steve Asmussen’s status as a potential inductee to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame continues to be in limbo.
The all-time second-winningest trainer was on the original final ballot last year, but his status was tabled when a controversial video recorded by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals emerged that showed questionable practices at Asmussen’s barn.
The video led to investigations by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, neither of which has been completed after almost nine months.
NEW STALL SPACE
A series of capital improvements for which $36 million has been earmarked have begun at Belmont Park, where the New York Racing Association will build a barn and expand existing ones that will add 200 stalls by May.
This is in anticipation of the end of training at Aqueduct this spring.
Other upcoming capital improvements, which will take place at Saratoga, too, include installation of security systems at all three NYRA tracks and upgrades to the customer service, simulcast, television and on-line platforms.
Belmont will also get a new dorm for backstretch workers.
AROUND THE TRACKS
StarLadies Racing’s Hopefaithjoy will kick off her 2015 campaign as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the $100,000 Busanda at Aqueduct on Saturday.
Among the StarLadies partners is Barbara Lucarelli of Duanesburg.
Hopefaithjoy debuted with a third at Saratoga before breaking her maiden at Keeneland. She closed 2014 with a fourth in the Rags to Riches at Churchill Downs in October. …
El Kabeir may stay in New York for his next start off an impressive win in the Grade III Jerome at Aqueduct last Saturday. Trainer John Terranova said two appealing spots at Aqueduct on the schedule are the Withers on Feb. 7 and the Gotham on March 7.
The Jerome, which carries 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for the winner, was the second straight graded stakes win for El Kabeir, who missed the Breeders’ Cup, but won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill on Nov. 29. He broke his maiden at Saratoga by 103⁄4 lengths.