The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, and the Daily Racing Form announced the finalists for the 2021 Eclipse Awards on Saturday. The list of finalists did not include Horse of the Year candidates, for which Knicks Go is a virtual certainty.

2021 Eclipse Award Finalists
The 51st Eclipse Awards winners will be announced on Feb. 10. Sixteen of the 17 finalist categories were announced on Saturday. (Image: NTRA)

Instead, finalists in 16 of the 17 human and equine categories were announced. The winners – culminating with the Horse of the Year reveal — will be announced on TVG and elsewhere on Thursday, Feb. 10 at 5 pm PT.

The Eclipse Awards get their name from the iconic 18th-century racehorse and sire Eclipse, who retired unbeaten in 18 starts and who sired 344 winners. Eight of his victories were walkovers. Created in 1971, the awards honor both equine and human standouts in 17 categories.

OG News doesn’t have a vote, but of the 245 eligible voters representing the NTRA, NTWAB, member racetrack racing officials, and Equibase representatives, 235 (95.9%) cast votes. The 235 voters winnowed each category to three finalists using a 10-5-1 point basis: first to third. Eclipse Awards winners are based solely on first-place votes.

Baffert factor will play a prominent role in voting

While Knicks Go is a foregone conclusion to win both Horse of the Year and Older Dirt Male, several other categories – most prominently 2-Year-Old Male and 3-Year-Old Male – will break down into a voter referendum on Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. More than a few voters – largely from Eastern outlets — have already come out saying they won’t vote for any Baffert horse.

That comes after the conditioner’s star 3-year-old, Medina Spirit, tested positive for the anti-inflammatory betamethasone after his Kentucky Derby victory. The late Medina Spirit, who died suddenly after a Dec. 6 workout, is one of the three finalists for 3-Year-Old Male. Essential Quality and former Baffert charge Life Is Good are the other finalists.

Two other Baffert notables are up for Eclipses: Corniche in the 2-Year-Old Male category and Gamine as top Female Sprinter. Corniche won two of the five juvenile Grade 1s in 2021, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Winning that prize usually guarantees the champion an Eclipse. But the anti-Baffert vote may drop that prize into Jack Christopher’s lap. He won the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont Park last fall before going on the shelf with an injury. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Modern Games is the other finalist.

Gamine may find repeating difficult

Gamine ran away with last year’s Eclipse for Best Female Sprinter, but her lackluster defense of her Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint – where she finished a well-beaten third – combined with the Baffert factor, may tilt this toward Ce Ce. She won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Bella Sofia is the other finalist

One other contentious category is Best Male Sprinter, where voters must decide if Flightline’s limited – but incandescent – three-race record rates better than Jackie’s Warrior’s sustained excellence. Flightline won his three races by a combined 37 ½ lengths while Jackie’s Warrior raced seven times – all in graded stakes. He won four times, finished second once and third once. Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West is the other finalist.

2021 Eclipse Awards Finalists (in alphabetical order)

Category Finalists
2-Year-Old Male
  • Corniche
  • Jack Christopher
  • Modern Games
2-Year-Old Filly
  • Echo Zulu
  • Juju’s Map
  • Pizza Bianca
3-Year Old Male
  • Essential Quality
  • Life Is Good
  • Medina Spirit
3-Year-Old Filly
  • Clairiere
  • Malathaat
  • Santa Barbara
Older Dirt Male
  • Knicks Go
  • Maxfield
  • Mystic Guide
Older Dirt Female
  • Letruska
  • Marche Lorraine
  • Shedaresthedevil
Male Sprinter
  • Aloha West
  • Flightline
  • Jackie’s Warrior
Female Sprinter
  • Bella Sofia
  • Ce Ce
  • Gamine
Male Turf Horse
  • Domestic Spending
  • Space Blues
  • Yibir
Female Turf Horse
  • Loves You Only
  • Santa Barbara
  • War Like Goddess
Steeplechase Horse
  • Baltimore Bucko
  • Snap Decision
  • The Mean Queen
Owner of the Year
  • Godolphin LLC
  • Juddmonte Farms Inc.
  • Klaravich Stables Inc.
Breeder of the Year
  • Calumet Farm
  • Godolphin LLC
  • Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings LLC
Trainer of the Year
  • Steve Asmussen
  • Chad Brown
  • Brad Cox
Jockey of the Year
  • Flavien Prat
  • Irad Ortiz Jr.
  • Joel Rosario
Apprentice Jockey of the Year
  • John Hiraldo
  • Charlie Marquez
  • Jessica Pyfer

Jackie’s Warrior’s trainer, Steve Asmussen, is one of the finalists for Trainer of the Year. Defending champion Brad Cox, who set a North American trainer earnings record, and Chad Brown are the other two. Cox’s 2020 Eclipse snapped Brown’s four-year hammerlock on the award. Asmussen, who surpassed Dale Baird’s record for most career wins by a North American trainer last summer, hasn’t won an Eclipse since 2009. He went back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. Both Asmussen and Brown won 10 Grade 1 races.

Could Rosario, Prat win their first riding Eclipse?

Another hammerlock may be in jeopardy this year. That’s Irad Ortiz Jr’s. three-year hold on Jockey of the Year. After leading in wins (336), he’s a finalist again, along with Flavien Prat and Joel Rosario. But after leading North American riders in earnings ($32,944,478) and earnings-per-start ($30,420), Rosario could claim his first Eclipse. Prat, who also is in line for his first Eclipse, led in win percentage (27%) and in-the-money finishes (63%). He was fifth in earnings.