By Richard Rosenblatt
The winners came from all over the world – Japan, Mexico, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, England and Ireland.
And, of course, America.
At the conclusion of the 51st Eclipse Awards on Thursday night, Korea Racing Authority-owned Knicks Go was voted Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male, Dubai Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin LLC took home honors as top breeder and owner, Japan’s DMM Dream Club’s Loves Only You was voted champion female turf horse, and Letruska, trained by Mexico’s Fausto Gutierrez and owned by Mexican billionaire German Larrea Mota Velasco’s St. George Stable, won as top older female.
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Those were not all the international winners: Godolphin’s Essential Quality won an Eclipse as the 3-year-old male champion, England-based Yibir, also owned by Godolphin, was voted male turf champion, and UAE-based Shadwell Stables owns 3-year-old filly champion Malathaat.
Truly, an international event broadcast by TVG and streamed live at several racing websites from Santa Anita Park.
There were not too many surprise results. Knicks Go, winner of the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), was the overwhelming choice for Horse of the Year with 228 votes. Letruska and Loves Only You had two apiece, and Essential Quality, Lil Latigo, and Medina Spirit each received one vote.
Maryland-bred Knicks Go won five of seven starts in 2021 and led all North American horses in earnings with $7.3 million. He was retired to stud after finishing second in the 2022 Pegasus World Cup.
In the 2-year-old divisions, embattled trainer Bob Baffert’s Corniche (BC Juvenile winner) won as the top male, and Steve Asmussen’s Echo Zulu (BC Juvenile Fillies winner) won as the top filly. Both horses are unbeaten.
Loves Only You became the first Japan-bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race – the BC Filly & Mare Turf (G1) – and followed up that victory with a win in the Hong Kong Cup (G1) on Dec. 12.
The 3-year-old male division was a bit dicey, but Essential Quality, with wins in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1), won over Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit – 131-84. Baffert-trained Medina Spirit’s victory remains in question after the horse’s post-race drug test was positive for a legal medication that is banned on race-day in Kentucky. Churchill Downs suspended Baffert for two years following the Derby.
Brad Cox won his second straight Eclipse as the nation’s top trainer. His stable of stars included Knicks Go, Essential Quality, and Mandaloun. Cox set a North American earnings record for trainers at $31,001,731 in 2021. He won 269 races, including 30 graded stakes.
Joel Rosario won his first Eclipse Award as top jockey. He was the regular rider for Knicks Go, Echo Zulu, and Jackie’s Warrior. Rosario led riders with $32,994,478 in earnings and had the most graded stakes wins (49).
The Eclipse for top apprentice went to Jessica Pyfer, based in southern California.
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Godolphin won outstanding owner for the fifth time and the outstanding breeder for the second time. Godolphin led all owners with 2021 earnings of more than $17 million – including victories from Essential Quality (Belmont, Travers), and Breeders’ Cup winners Ireland-bred Modern Games, Ireland-bred Space Blues, and England-bred Yibir (GB).
The awards are voted on by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers.
The winners (age listed where applicable):
- 2-Year-Old Male: Corniche
- 2-Year-Old Filly: Echo Zulu
- 3-Year-Old Male: Essential Quality
- 3-Year-Old Filly: Malathaat
- Older Dirt Male: Knicks Go (5)
- Older Dirt Female: Letruska (5)
- Male Sprinter: Jackie’s Warrior (3)
- Female Sprinter: Ce Ce (5)
- Male Turf Horse: Yibir (GB) (3)
- Female Turf Horse: Loves Only You (JPN) (5)
- Steeplechase Horse: The Mean Queen (IRE) (5)
- Owner: Godolphin LLC
- Breeder: Godolphin LLC
- Jockey: Joel Rosario
- Apprentice Jockey: Jessica Pyfer
- Trainer: Brad Cox
- Horse of the Year: Knicks Go (5)
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.