By Richard Rosenblatt
Brad Cox stole the show again, winning his first Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer on Thursday night, and two of his horses were crowned division champions, Essential Quality (2-Year-Old Male) and Monomoy Girl (Older Female).
A few months ago, Cox equaled the Breeders’ Cup record by winning four championship races at Keeneland on Nov. 6-7.
Cox, in a bit of an upset, beat out four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Bob Baffert, whose horses collected four Eclipse Awards, including Horse of the Year with Authentic, who won the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).
Horse of the Year is usually the most coveted prize in thoroughbred racing, but the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the stakes schedule around, and tested the training skills of the best in the business.
Cox, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, rose to the top of the heap with the best year of his career, winning 216 races from 903 starters with purse earnings of $18.9 million – second among all trainers.
In the Breeders’ Cup, Cox saddled these winners: Monomoy Girl (BC Distaff); Knicks Go (BC Dirt Mile); Essential Quality (BC Juvenile); and Aunt Pearl (BC Juvenile Fillies). And to think, Essential Quality is an early Derby favorite getting set for his 3-year-old campaign.
Authentic won five of seven starts in 2020, and closed out his career with a 2 ¼-length gate-to-wire victory over stablemate Improbable in the BC Classic. The colt won the Derby on Sept. 5 (defeating Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Tiz the Law), and finished second by a neck to the filly Swiss Skydiver in the Preakness on Oct. 3. Authentic was also voted top 3-Year-Old Male.
Authentic received 224 of the 238 votes cast by members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Daily Racing Form.
“We are so honored and thankful to win Horse of the Year,’’ said Spendthrift Farm owner B. Wayne Hughes. “This is a major milestone for Spendthrift and for our great partners at MyRaceHorse, Madaket Stables, and Starlight Racing.”
Cox totaled 106 votes to Baffert’s 69; Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen was third 44 votes.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. won his third consecutive Eclipse Award as the nation’s top jockey, leading all riders in earnings and wins.
Improbable, who won three Grade 1s for Baffert in 2020, was voted the Eclipse as Top Older Male, and Swiss Skydiver earned the Eclipse for 3-Year-Old Filly.
Baffert saw his horses win four championships – Authentic had two, Improbable one and Gamine won 3-Year-Old Female Sprinter. His horses have been voted Horse of the Year four times – Point Given in 2001 and Triple Crown winners America Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
Baffert, though, had a roller-coaster year. Four times, he had horses that came back with post-race medication violations, and he was criticized by many in the industry.
Cox seemed to win everywhere he went, too. Essential Quality, owned by Godolphin (Eclipse winner as top owner), won all three of his races in 2020.
Monomoy Girl, who missed the 2019 racing season, came back with a flourish and won all four of her races in 2020 after winning her first BC Distaff in 2018.
Monomoy Girl outpointed Midnight Bisou 234-4 in the voting.
The awards were presented virtually.
The 2020 winners (with votes for the top finishers)
Horse of the Year: Authentic 224 (Monomoy Girl 7, Swiss Skydiver 6)
2-Year-Old Male: Essential Quality 231 (Jackie’s Warrior 6, Fire At Will 1)
2-Year-Old Filly: Vequist 212 (Aunt Pearl 24, Malathaat 1)
3-Year-Old Male: Authentic 236 (Tiz the Law 2)
3-Year-Old Filly: Swiss Skydiver 218 (Gamine 20)
Older Dirt Male: Improbable 218 (Knicks Go 8, Vekoma 5)
Older Dirt Female: Monomoy Girl 234 (Midnight Bisou 4)
Male Sprinter: Whitmore 132 (Vekoma 83, Volatile 16)
Female Sprinter: Gamine 219 (Serengeti Empress 13, Frank’s Rockette 4)
Male Turf Horse: Channel Maker 180 (Zulu Alpha 17, Order of Australia 15)
Female Turf Horse: Rushing Fall 115 (Tarnawa 106, Magical 8)
Steeplechase Horse: Moscato 155 (Snap Decision 28, Rashaan 21)
Owner: Godolphin LLC 78 (Spendthrift Farm LLC, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, and Starlight Racing 56, Klaravich Stables Inc. 47)
Breeder: WinStar Farm LLC (128) Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds LLC 52, Calumet Farm 45)
Trainer: Brad Cox 106 (Bob Baffert 69, Steve Asmussen 44)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr. 162 (Joel Rosario 54, John Velazquez 14)
Apprentice Jockey: Alexander Crispin 79 (Yarmarie Correa 74, Luis Cardenas 38,)