While Flightline was the most dominant horse in 2022 and will easily win Horse of the Year, the contest for the top 3-year-old male holds all the drama on Thursday during the 52nd Annual Eclipse Awards Dinner in Palm Beach, Florida.
As brilliant as he was, though, Flightline will not be a unanimous winner of the biggest Eclipse Award of them all. Even though he won his three races by a combined 32¼ lengths, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a record 8¼ lengths and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar by a record 19¼ lengths, at least a few voters are on record as saying they didn’t vote for the son of Tapit because he was so lightly raced.
The last horse to win Horse of the Year with only three races was Native Dancer in 1954. Flightline figures to become the only horse to be named Horse of the Year with just three races since the Eclipse voting format was changed in 1971. Ghostzapper won the award in 2004 after racing only four times.
The same dilemma does not apply to Taiba and Epicenter, who raced a combined 14 times last year. Taiba won three of six, including three Grade I’s, and lost a fourth, the Haskell, by a head to Cyberknife. Epicenter won four of eight races, finishing first or second in each Triple Crown race and turning in the most impressive race of the year by a 3-year-old male, according to Santa Anita morning-line maker and racing historian Jon White.
“Epicenter ran what I felt was the best single race (a 5¼-length victory in the Travers Stakes) during the year by a 3-year-old colt,” White wrote in an email. Still, he cast his ballot for Taiba, saying it was one of the toughest choices he’s had since he first began voting on the Eclipse Awards in 1976.
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“For me, it was similar to Genuine Risk and Bold ’n Determined for champion 3-year-old filly in 1980,” White wrote. He voted for Genuine Risk and she won. White also had trouble choosing between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra for champion 3-year-old filly and Horse of the Year in 2009. He voted for Zenyatta in both categories and Rachel Alexandra won both.
As for Horse of the Year this time, White found it difficult to vote for any horse other than Flightline.
“While it’s true that Flightline technically raced only three times in 2022, his superb 11½-length Malibu Stakes victory at Santa Anita came just a few days before 2022,” he wrote. “Yes, Flightline’s Malibu doesn’t officially count, but his three outstanding 2022 races that did count made it a no-brainer for me to vote for him as Horse of the Year.”
The Keeneland red-carpet show will begin Thursday at 3:30 p.m., with the ceremony beginning at 4:30. FanDuel TV and Racetrack Television Network with air the festivities, along with ntra.com, americasbestracing.net, bloodhorse.com, equibase.com and NTRA’s Youtube channel.
When: Thursday, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Palm Beach, Fla.
What: Awards will be given to horses and humans in 17 categories, including Horse of the Year
HOY favorite: Flightline
TV: FanDuel TV and Racetrack Television Network