California Chrome gets top honors at Eclipse Awards

California Chrome winning the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March 2014.

California Chrome winning the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in March 2014.

California Chrome – who captured the hearts of racing fans with his wins in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness – was named Horse of the Year at the Eclipse Awards in a ceremony Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

With 143 votes cast on his behalf, the California-bred and based colt easily captured the prestigious title over Main Sequence (with 53 votes) and Bayern (with 36 votes).

California Chrome, a son of Lucky Pulpit, also got top honors for champion male 3-year-old of 2014.
The 193 votes cast for California Chrome for top 3-year-old far surpassed the 56 for Bayern – who lost to him in the Preakness but beat him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Pennsylvania Derby – and the 15 for last year’s champion 2-year-old male, Shared Belief.

“This has been an incredible journey,” California Chrome’s co-owner, Steve Coburn, said after the chestnut colt’s win for best 3-year-old male. “This is a fairy tale come true for us.”

Trainer Art Sherman said, “It’s been a lifetime achievement for me just being here,” noting that he has been on the race track for 55 years.

After California Chrome took home the night’s top award, the usually chatty Coburn said he had “no words,” but wanted to make sure that he thanked the horse’s legion of fans who “love this horse.”

California Chrome’s Eclipse Award victories followed his recent wins in the fan-voted Vox Populi award, and the NTRA Moment of the Year for his Kentucky Derby win.

The evening’s other winners included:

— Main Sequence, who was undefeated in four starts in 2014 including the Breeders’ Cup Turf, took home top honors for champion older male horse and champion male turf horse. He won the latter over turf superstar Wise Dan, a two-time winner.

. — Untapable, the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner, unanimously won the champion 3-year-old filly award.

— American Pharoah, the highly regarded colt who missed the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, won top 2-year-old male. The other contenders included Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor Texas Red, who finished third to American Pharoah in the FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita Park, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hootenanny.

The vote – 126 for American Pharoah and 111 for Texas Red – was the closest of the evening, with Hootenanny getting 16 votes.

— Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Take Charge Brandi was an easy winner of the 2-year-old filly category. Her rivals included Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champ Lady Eli and Spinaway winner Condo Commando.

— Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Dayatthespa, who was honored as champion female turf horse over Stephanie’s Kitten and Crown Queen.

— Close Hatches, who was named top older female horse over Dayatthespa and Don’t Tell Sophia.
— Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Work All Week was named champion male sprinter. His foes included Private Zone, who finished third in the Sprint, and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents.

— Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Judy The Beauty, who was named champion female sprinter in a nearly unanimous vote.

— Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, who were named breeder of the year and owner of the year for the second year in a row.

— Todd Pletcher, who took home a record seventh title for trainer.

— Jockey Javier Castellano, who won for the second consecutive year.

— Apprentice jockey Drayden Van Dyke.

Horse Bits

 California Chrome is likely to make his first start of the year next month at Santa Anita. When asked about future plans for the horse, co-owner Steve Coburn said, “We’re just going to surprise everybody, I do believe because, you know, when that horse won on the turf (the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar) it opened up a large window of opportunity … We’re just going to take it one race at a time.” Trainer Art Sherman added, “I guess Dubai is not out of the question.”

 Sherman said he received an e-mail laying out the road to the Kentucky Derby for California Chrome before the colt had even started and thought, “Oh, my God.” He noted that the horse went on to win four of the five races on the list, and called himself “a believer now.”

 Judy The Beauty’s trainer, Wesley Ward, who won an Eclipse award for apprentice jockey three decades ago, said it had taken him “30 years and 100 pounds to get back here.”

 Kenneth Ramsey credited his wife of 56 years with naming Kitten’s Joy, the stallion that he said had “single-handedly” taken them to the Eclipse Awards stage. He said the horse’s name has been “very prophetic.”

 Trainer Todd Pletcher recalled driving to Hialeah Park in December 1995 after his application for stalls at Gulfstream Park had just been denied. He said that he had seven horses who were maidens at the time, and that four of them were owned by his father.

 Take Charge Brandi’s owner, Willis Horton, returned to the stage a year after his colt, Will Take Charge, won top male 3-year-old. He said it had been “the best two years,” saying that “we rode the gravy train and we love it.”