While it was a big night for the connections of Horse of the Year and top older dirt male Flightline and trainer Todd Pletcher, it was Epicenter who took home top honors as the best 3-year-old male of 2022, perhaps the most contentious of this year’s Eclipse Awards.
Epicenter beat out Taiba for the award Thursday night during the 52nd annual Breeders’ Cup Dinner in Palm Beach, Florida. The battle between the two was hotly debated on social media during the past few weeks. He won the Travers this year by 5¼ lengths and finished second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Taiba, who won three Grade I races – the Santa Anita Derby, Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes – might have been hurt by his disappointing 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. It was only the third race of his career.
“Handicapping the 3-year-old Eclipse Award is a little bit like watching the Derby, you can’t figure out who’s going to win until the wire came up,” said owner Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds.
Pletcher won his record eighth Eclipse Award as top trainer (his first since 2014) and three of his horses – Forte, Nest and Malathaat – won awards in their respective divisions. Pletcher’s win was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.
As expected, the now-retired Flightline was a runaway winner as Horse of the Year after never being challenged in the Met Mile, Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic. No horse came closer than six lengths to him in his six career victories.
Flightline, a son of Tapit, turned in perhaps his most awe-inspiring effort when he won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by a record 19¼ lengths. He would have broken Candy Ride’s record of 1: 59.11 for the mile and a quarter except for the fact jockey Flavien Prat hand rode him to the wire.
“Obviously, Flightline is a horse of a generation,” trainer John Sadler said. “In the words of (Del Mar track announcer) Trevor Denman, we may not see this again. He’s a fabulous horse and I feel so blessed to have trained him.”
The other Eclipse Award winners:
• 2-year-old male: Forte, who was one of Pletcher’s three winners, won four of five starts including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile by 1½ lengths. The son of Violence also won the Breeders’ Futurity and the Hopeful Stakes, both Grade I events, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.
• 2-year-old filly: Wonder Wheel breezed to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by three lengths. The daughter of Into Mischief won four of five races overall, including the Grade I Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland.
• 3-year-old filly: Nest, a daughter of Curlin trained by Pletcher, won five of eight starts, including three Grade I stakes – the Ashland, Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama.
• Older dirt female: Another of Pletcher’s winners, Malathaat was an easy choice after winning three Grade I races, including the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Another daughter of Curlin, she also won the Spinster and Personal Ensign.
• Male sprinter: Elite Power, sired by Curlin, closed his campaign with five consecutive victories, including the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Grade II Vosburgh for trainer Bill Mott.
• Female sprinter: Goodnight Olive, a daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, was 4 for 4 with victories in the Grade I Ballerina and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
• Male turf: Victories in a pair of Grade I stakes, the Woodbine Mile and the Breeders’ Cup Mile, lifted Modern Games, a son of Dubaw, to top honors. He won three of seven starts in 2022.
• Female turf: Regal Glory, a daughter of Animal Kingdom, gave trainer Chad Brown his second Eclipse Award of the night (Goodnight Olive) off victories in three Grade I races – the Jenny Wiley, Just a Game and Matriarch.
• Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr., who won a record 77 stakes in 2022, won the award for the fourth time (all in the past five years). He tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.
• Apprentice jockey: Jose Gomez, whose agent is Hall of Fame rider Angel Cordero, Jr., took the honor.
• Owner: Godolphin won 13 Grade I races and won the award for the sixth time (three in a row).
• Breeder: Another victory for Godolphin, their second straight in the category.
The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.
Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73