The Eclipse Awards are doled out at Gulfstream Park at the end of January. But this column is not about that.
The following is about some of the horses, tracks, trainers and racing managers that made an impact during my racetrack travels during 2019.
Best Track Visit. A rare August afternoon with no deadlines or races to cover at Saratoga Race Course with my 11-year-old, his high school-aged cousin (first track visit) and my father. Teaching the youths how to handicap and enjoy the horses was a highlight. Getting a picture with Irad Ortiz Jr. and the boys didn’t hurt, either. Any day with my dad at the track is a win.
Favorite Horse to Follow. It was a choppy year and no favorite horse emerged. If City of Light kept racing, I’d think he would’ve been my go-to. If forced to make a pick, I enjoyed watching Code of Honor and Tone Broke win some big races in the U.S. and Canada, respectively. Bricks and Mortar was fun to watch and will likely get my Horse of the Year vote.
Worst Weather Moment. You’d think getting to take a trip to Florida in January from frigid Buffalo would be the highlight of the year. Think again. Pegasus day was just miserable with a cold front parking itself over South Florida and a torrential downpour all day. Sure, we were having a blizzard here in the B-Lo, so I should probably stop complaining.
Coolest Moment of the Year. Finger Lakes in April is downright cold. Seriously, seeing Shug win the Travers at Saratoga with Code of Honor was probably the coolest moment of the year.
Best Handicapping of the Year. Picking Belvoir Bay in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at a 12-1 morning line, went off at 14-1 and won going away. My daughter, a transplanted Southern Californian, in her first track visit to Santa Anita now thinks I’m a genius. Honorable mention would go to top picks Tax (Jim Dandy), Code of Honor (Travers) and Vino Rosso (Classic).
Worst Handicapping of the Year. Whiffed on the Kentucky Derby this year with Improbable, who spun his wheels in the mud under the Twin Spires. I rebounded with Owendale in the Preakness, who finished a game third and was coming late, needing more track.
Best Interview. Racing manager Brooke Hubbard was standing alone with no one approaching her at the Queen's Plate breakfast, when we spent a few minutes discussing her 7-2 promising colt One Bad Boy. She gave me the quote of the year when describing her colt’s demeanor in the barn. “He’s definitely mischievous and loves to bite, you have to keep an eye on him at all times,” she said.
Best Track Meal. Fort Erie breaks from the back of the pack this year with its scrumptious Prince of Wales buffet. Carved roast beef, plenty of shrimp and some killer dessert items put it over the top to gain the nod.
Best Horse Race. In a repeat performance, the Met Mile gathered top honors for the best race that I witnessed all year. Mitole, who had a fabulous year, held off a hard-charging Mitole and Thunder Snow to win one of the most coveted races of the year. It’s been a favorite race of mine for a long time.
In the coming weeks we’ll have our annual Festivus column and the annual Kreskin projections for 2020 as we move closer to the New Year.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.