True to his running style, Knicks Go broke out to a big lead and proved uncatchable, capturing the Eclipse Award for 2021 Horse of the Year when the Eclipse Awards were announced Thursday night at Santa Anita Park.

Knicks Go-Rosario-Eclipse
Joel Rosario and Knicks Go rode off with a combined three Eclipse Awards at Thursday night’s Eclipse Awards ceremony at Santa Anita Park. Knicks Go won Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male Eclipses, while Rosario won his first Jockey of the Year Eclipse. (Image: Coglianese Photos/Ryan Thompson)

The now-6-year-old horse received 228 votes out a possible 235 first-place votes (97%)  for Horse of the Year. Stablemate Essential Quality and Letruska were the other nominees in voting by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB), Daily Racing Form, member racetrack racing officials and Equibase field personnel.

Letruska, who won an Eclipse for Champion Older Female, garnered two first-place votes. So did Japanese mare Loves Only You. Essential Quality, who won the Eclipse for Champion 3-Year-Old Male, Lil Latig and the late Medina Spirit earned one vote apiece.

OG News does not have an Eclipse vote.

Honoring excellence in North American Thoroughbred racing, the Eclipse Awards returned live for the first time since 2020. Last year’s event was virtual, due to the pandemic.

Knicks Go broke $7 million in season earnings

There was no mystery surrounding the 2021 Horse of the Year. Knicks Go went 5-for-7 in 2021, winning three Grade 1s: the Pegasus World Cup, the Whitney and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He added the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows and the ungraded Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs. Put it together and you come up with $7,324,140 in total earnings, which led all North American horses in that category.

Knicks Go rides into retirement at Taylor Made Farm as the No. 1 ranked horse in the world, according to the Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings.

Knicks Go, who finished second to Life Is Good in defense of his Pegasus World Cup title last month, added the Champion Older Male Eclipse to his haul. And his tails carried his trainer, Brad Cox, to his second consecutive Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer. They also carried his jockey, Joel Rosario, to his first Eclipse Award as Outstanding Jockey.

Cox set a North American earnings record for trainers. His horses racked up $31,001,731 in earnings. His 269 victories included 30 graded stakes. Rosario, who rode Knicks Go in all his victories, amassed $32,944,478 in earnings. He won 26% of his graded stakes races, hitting the board 53% of the time.

Bookend Eclipses for Essential Quality

Cox’s Essential Quality picked up his second Eclipse in as many seasons, adding a bookend to his Champion 2-Year-Old award from 2020. He’s the sixth horse to own those particular Eclipse bookends since the awards began in 1971. Now retired along with Knicks Go, Essential Quality won the Belmont Stakes, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Travers Stakes. He finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Knicks Go and Medina Spirit and fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

His success helped Godolphin capture both the Outstanding Owner and Outstanding Breeder Eclipse Awards. The breeding colossus earned 216 votes in the owner category, with Klaravich Stables next at a mere seven. Godolphin amassed 205 in the breeders category. Calumet Farm was next with eight. Godolphin led the owners earnings table with more than $17 million. It also led the breeders earnings list with more than $18.4 million.

That was a trend in a year largely devoid of drama. Letruska’s Eclipse for Champion Older Female came with 227 out of the 235 first-place votes, not surprising in a year where she won six graded stakes, including three Grade 1s: the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park and Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.

Malathaat, Echo Zulu other easy choices

Another three-time Grade 1 winner, Malathaat, breezed to the Champion 3-Year-Old filly Eclipse. She won the Ashland at Keeneland, the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs and the Alabama at Saratoga. Those feats earned her 227 out of 235 first-place votes.

Other dominant winners included Echo Zulu as Champion 2-Year-Old Filly (233 out of 235 first-place votes), and Corniche as Champion 2-Year-Old Male (214 out of 235). The former was expected, considering Echo Zulu won all four of her races, capped by a 5 ¼-length romp in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Corniche’s victory wasn’t as assured going in. Because he’s trained by controversial trainer Bob Baffert, several writers went on the record vowing not to vote for any of his horses. Yet, Corniche’s 3-for-3 record – which included Grade 1 scores in the American Pharoah at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – overcame many voter’s objections. He was clearly the best 2-year-old male in North America and when the votes were counted, only three writers abstained from voting.

That gave Baffert his sixth Champion 2-Year-Old and record 27th Eclipse Award-winning horse.

Jackie’s Warrior survived a lackluster season finish

The sprinter awards were closer, albeit not nail-biters given the depth of both fields. Jackie’s Warrior overcame his poor sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to win Male Sprinter of the Year. Voters put more stock in his four stakes wins – including the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga. They gave him 110 first-place votes to runner-up Aloha West’s 50. Jackie’s Warrior was the only horse to beat Life Is Good, who received one first-place vote.

Ce Ce won the Female Sprinter Eclipse. She went 4-for-6, including an impressive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, where she beat last year’s Eclipse winner, Gamine. Ce Ce garnered 137 first-place votes to Gamine’s 97.

In a crowded Male Turf category, voters went for Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Yibir, who took 135 first-place votes to 33 apiece for Domestic Spending and Space Blues. The Female Turf Eclipse went to another foreign horse: Japan’s Loves Only You. She became the first Japanese horse so honored, garnering 136 first-place votes to 70 for War Like Goddess and captivating voters with her victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Top apprentice added another gold brick to Santa Anita colony

The Mean Queen earned Champion Steeplechase Horse, becoming the second female to win the Steeplechase Eclipse and the first since Life’s Illusion in 1975. She won all six of her US starts in 2021.

2021 Eclipse Award Winners

Horse of the Year Knicks Go
Two-Year-Old Male Corniche
Two-Year-Old Filly Echo Zulu
Three-Year-Old Male Essential Quality
Three-Year-Old Female Malathaat
Older Dirt Male Knicks Go
Older Dirt Female Letruska
Male Sprinter Jackie’s Warrior
Female Sprinter Ce Ce
Male Turf Horse Yibir
Female Turf Horse Loves Only You
Steeplechase Horse The Mean Queen
Trainer of the Year Brad Cox
Jockey of the Year Joel Rosario
Owner of the Year Godolphin
Breeders of the Year Godolphin
Apprentice Jockey of the Year Jessica Pyfer
Horseplayer of the Year Justin Mustari

Jessica Pyfer took home the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Apprentice Jockey. The 23-year-old Pyfer led all North American apprentice riders with $2,857,333 in earnings. She finished second in apprentice wins with 56. Pyfer is the third female to win the Eclipse for apprentice jockey, following Rosemary Homeister Jr. and Emma-Jayne Wilson. She is also the seventh Santa Anita-based apprentice to win the award.

Justin Mustari, the 2021 National Horseplayers Championship winner, won an Eclipse as Horseplayer of the Year