California Chrome regains US Horse of Year accolade
California Chrome was named American Horse of the Year for the second time on Saturday night at the annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, getting the better of his Breeders' Cup conqueror Arrogate in the vote for the nation's most prestigious racing award.
The equine Oscars took place at Gulfstream Park, where battle will be rejoined between California Chrome and Arrogate on Saturday in the Pegasus World Cup. Arrogate is also likely to have been identified as world champion before then at the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings, due to be revealed in London on Wednesday.
However, California Chrome – who had also won the award in 2014 – outpolled Arrogate by 202 votes to 40 in the ballot that really matters at the Eclipse Awards, which represent the pinnacle of achievement and define the de facto champions of the sport. There is no direct corollary in Europe – the Cartier Awards, for instance, fail to carry anywhere near as much clout.
Songbird received five votes for Horse of the Year, while there was one for Ballydoyle's Breeders' Cup-winning globetrotter Highland Reel.
Trained in California by veteran handler Art Sherman, California Chrome won seven of his starts last year including the Dubai World Cup and a five-length defeat of subsequent Distaff heroine Beholder in the Pacific Classic. He duly became only the second horse to regain the Horse of the Year title since the Eclipse Awards began in 1971. John Henry was the other, winning in 1981 and 1984.
California Chrome, Arrogate and Songbird all won divisional titles earlier in the evening, with California Chrome the unanimous choice among the 248 voters as champion older dirt male, while Songbird was also unanimous among three-year-old females. Arrogate polled 243 votes as three-year-old male.
There was little sign of European success as Highland Reel took second place behind Flintshire – whom he beat at the Breeders' Cup – in the male turf category while Found and Queen's Trust took the minor placings as Royal Ascot winner Tepin deservedly retained her title as female turf champion.
Tepin's trainer Mark Casse was responsible for two champions as Kentucky Derby favourite Classic Empire took the two-year-old male award after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile triumph; Bob Baffert also had two winners, with Drefong topping the sprint category to join Arrogate.
Rawnaq, formerly trained in both Britain and Ireland, was voted champion steeplechase horse after a season in which he won the American Grand National Hurdle under Ruby Walsh.
Thanks to the exploits of Arrogate, Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte operation was named leading owner while Chad Brown, who trained Flintshire, won his first title as outstanding trainer. Brown also topped the prize-money list for the first time in 2016 to confirm his rise to the top of the training ladder.
Javier Castellano extended his winning streak among jockeys to four. Other human awards went to WinStar Farm (breeder) and Chad Luis Ocasio (apprentice jockey). A special Eclipse Award of Merit for lifetime achievement was presented to journalists Andrew Beyer and Steven Crist.
>>Finest City (Ian Kruljac/Mike Smith), voted champion female sprinter after her Breeders' Cup victory, kicked off her 2017 campaign with an impressive victory in the Grade 2 Santa Monica at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Eclipse Award winners for 2016
Horse of the Year: California Chrome
Older dirt male: California Chrome
Older dirt female: Beholder
Three-year-old Male: Arrogate
Three-year-old Filly: Songbird
Two-year-old Male: Classic Empire
Two-year-old Filly: Champagne Room
Male sprinter: Drefong
Female sprinter: Finest City
Male turf horse: Flintshire
Female turf horse: Tepin
Steeplechase horse: Rawnaq
Owner: Juddmonte Farms
Breeder: WinStar Farm LLC
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Apprentice jockey: Luis Ocasio
Trainer: Chad Brown