And the winners are …

January, 17, 2014

On Saturday night, the suspense -- what little of it there is -- will come to an end and Thoroughbred racings champions for 2013 will be announced.

The finalists have already been announced and its unlikely that there will be any major shocks when the trophies are handed out, though there are a few categories where there could be a surprise.

As a preview of what to expect in a few days, heres how my ballot was filled out:

Horse of the Year: Wise Dan. It was harder to vote for him this time, but in the end there was no denying him a second straight crown. The gelding won six of seven races in 2013 as opposed to a five of six mark during his 2012 Horse of the Year campaign, but even with that additional win his season was not as impressive as it was in 2012.

In 2012, Wise Dan was not only undefeated on turf, but his tough-luck second in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster painted him as one of the years top runners on dirt. This past year, Wise Dan stayed within the safe confines of mile and mile-and-an-eighth turf races, leaving it as little surprise that he went undefeated on turf again (his lone loss came on Polytrack at Keeneland).

It was hardly the classic Horse of the Year campaign. Yet it was the best.

Game On Dude self-destructed in the Breeders Cup Classic. Will Take Charges Triple Crown races were too weak, and Breeders Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man won only two races.

After all that, as it was in 2012, Wise Dan was No. 1.

2-Year-Old Male: New Years Day. Realistically, if you want to win the Kentucky Derby, you should probably steer clear of the Breeders Cup Juvenile. But if you want to be named the 2-year-old champion, you need a victory or stellar effort in the BC Juvenile -- unless you have a compelling reason for missing the race.

Shared Belief might turn out to be a phenomenal 3-year-old, and not rushing into the Breeders Cup could play a major role in that. But in terms of 2-year-old races, the BC Juvenile is on such higher level than other stakes that it deserves its role as the race that crowns a champion.

While some might want to give this award to the horse most likely to shine at three, it belongs to the horse who did the most at two -- and in this instance thats New Years Day, who won the BC Juvenile by a length and a quarter.

An injury has already ended his career and pushed the record of BC Juvenile winners to 1 for 30 in the Kentucky Derby, but for now it seems more appropriate to focus on New Years Day becoming the 24th BC Juvenile winner to be named 2-year-old champion.

2-Year-Old Female: Ria Antonia. Using as the same logic applied to the juvenile males, the nod goes to Ria Antonia. Even though she was just 2-for-5 and did not cross the finish line first in the BC Juvenile Fillies, she probably would have won the BCJF if the unofficial winner, Shes a Tiger, had not bumped her and no one else had more than one Grade 1 win.

3-Year-Old Male: Will Take Charge. This was easy. He was 8th, 7th and 10th in the three Triple Crown races, but reeling off wins in the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby followed by a nose loss in the Breeders Cup Classic and win over Game On Dude in the Clark made him a no-brainer for the title.

3-Year-Old Female: Princess of Sylmar. Im not expecting to get this one right, but to me its the right way to go.

Princess of Sylmar and Beholder split their two meetings. Princess of Sylmar won the Kentucky Oaks and Beholder took the Breeders Cup Distaff. Beholder gets the edge there.

Beyond those two races, Princess of Sylmar ran in -- and won -- better races that helps to even the equation. The tie-breaker, in my estimation, was the sportsmanship Princess of Sylmars connections displayed by supplementing her to the Distaff and then shipping her to California to run on a speed-biased surface that heavily favored Beholder.

Princess of Sylmar lost that race rather badly, finishing last in a field of six, but in the race for a championship, she came out on top in my view.

Older Male: Wise Dan. Its pretty simple. Wise Dan was the Horse of the Year and hes an older male. Case closed.

Older Female: Royal Delta. She may have slipped in 2013, winning just three of seven races, but the competition was weak. So weak that my second choice was turf star Dank, who won both of her U.S. starts.

Male Sprinter: Points Offthebench. One of the saddest stories in 2013 was Points Offthebench suffering a fatal Injury a week before the Breeders Cup. Its little consolation for their loss, but at least his connections will always have a reminder of how good he was, thanks to the Eclipse Award trophy.

Female Sprinter: Groupie Doll. It was a tough choice between her and Mizdirection. Both became two-time Breeders Cup winners, but Groupie Doll earned the nod for facing tougher rivals.

Turf Male: Wise Dan. Pretty simple. He was 6-for-6 on turf and won four Grade 1s, including the Breeders Cup Mile for a second straight year. No one else came close.

Turf Female: Dank. The European filly won a pair of important Grade 1s in the Beverly D and Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and was the choice over Mizdirection.

Top Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey. The Ramseys won races at record pace at meets like Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Saratoga and led all owners with graded stakes wins (17) and Grade 1 victories (7).

Top Breeder: Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Thanks to all those homebred Kittens Joy stakes winners, the Ramseys deserve this award as well.

Top Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Its hard to argue with more than 200 wins and about $10 million more in earnings than his nearest rival.

Top Apprentice Jockey: Victor Carrasco. Its a difficult category to judge, but he had the most wins and highest earnings and thats a nice daily double.

Top Jockey: Javier Castellano. Gary Stevens and Mike Smith both had magnificent years, but they rode in about one quarter of the races that Castellano did.

Castellano could not match the Grade 1 wins of either Stevens or Smith. Yet on a daily basis, he rode at the best tracks and wound up leading all jockeys in total wins and set a new North American record for earnings in a year. In the grand scheme of things, if its an award based on the accomplishments of an entire year -- not just the weekends -- Castellano deserves it.

In baseball, theres a school of thought that an everyday player is a better choice for a MVP award than a pitcher. Here hes the everyday player.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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