Authentic set for big night at Eclipse Awards

Authentic is favored to be named Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, and his connections – trainer Bob Baffert, jockey John Velazquez, breeder Peter Blum, and an ownership group headed by Spendthrift Farm – all are finalists in their respective categories for the 50th annual Eclipse Awards, to be revealed Thursday night in an unusual presentation that serves as an appropriate coda to an unusual year.

Owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the usual black-tie-optional ceremony has been changed by a virtual one, emanating from Spendthrift in Kentucky. A number of past hosts of the Eclipse Awards – including Jeannine Edwards and Kenny Rice – are involved in this year’s presentation, which starts at 8 p.m. Eastern. It will be televised by TVG, and can be seen on a number of streaming outlets,.

Champions for 2020 will be announced in 17 categories – 12 for horses, five for humans – and while a number of the winners look clear-cut, there are a handful that are open for debate.

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Baffert trained Authentic, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, as well as Improbable – who is favored to be named champion older dirt male – and Gamine, favored over Serengeti Empress in the female sprint category. But Brad Cox has strong support to defeat him as champion trainer, based on a résumé that includes likely champions Essential Quality (2-year-old male) and Monomoy Girl (older dirt female).

If Cox prevails, it will be his first title. Baffert has won four times, most recently in 2015, when American Pharaoh was Horse of the Year following his Triple Crown sweep. Steve Asmussen is the third finalist for champion trainer.

Authentic, Improbable, and Monomoy Girl are the three finalists for Horse of the Year.

Finalists in each category, which were revealed Jan. 14, are essentially the top three receiving votes from the 238 people – from Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association – who cast ballots. The winners in each category are determined solely by first-place votes.

Velazquez is a finalist for champion jockey, which he has won twice (2004-05). His fellow finalists are Irad Ortiz Jr., the reigning two-time champion, and Joel Rosario, who has yet to attain this award.

Authentic’s ownership group – Spendthrift, MyRacehorse Stable, Madaket Stables, and Starlight Racing – are finalists for champion owner along with Godolphin and last year’s winner, Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables. Godolphin is a two-time winner in this category, in 2009 and 2012.

Blum’s fellow finalists for champion breeder are Calumet Farm, and WinStar Farm, which acquired in 2016.

Categories that seem most opaque contain male sprinter – with Vekoma, Volatile, and Whitmore the finalists – and female turf horse, pitting Rushing Fall versus Europeans Audarya and Tarnawa, both of whom won Breeders’ Cup races.

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