South Florida Well-Represented by Eclipse Award Winners
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Watching his son and assistant, Alan, lead California Chrome around the Gulfstream Park shedrow shortly before 7 Sunday morning, trainer Art Sherman continued to marvel at the strength and energy of his newly crowned two-time Horse of the Year.
“I was going to walk him myself if they didn’t show up,” he said. “It’s a good thing I didn’t; he might have lifted me right off the ground.”
California Chrome was happy and enthusiastic on his Sunday stroll, coming a day after he put in the last timed workout of a storied career that has made him the richest horse in North American racing history. He is scheduled to make his final start in the inaugural and innovative $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 28 at Gulfstream.
“He looks good. His legs are tight and cool, and he’s holding his weight good,” Sherman said. “He’s just an unbelievable horse. I’ve had a lot of horses all my life and been around some good ones, and he’s by far the best I’ve ever had.”
Late Saturday evening at Gulfstream, California Chrome became only the second winner of Horse of the Year honors in non-consecutive years since the Eclipse Awards were founded in 1971, having earned the top honor following his Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1)-winning season of 2014.
Also selected the Champion Older Male of 2016, California Chrome follows in the footsteps of Hall of Fame gelding John Henry, named Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984. Chrome won seven of eight starts including the Dubai World Cup (G1), Pacific Classic (G1) and Awesome Again (G1) and nearly $8.2 million in purse earnings in 2016.
“I’m just so happy that everybody voted for him. It’s been quite a journey,” Sherman said. “We’ve been all over the world and it’s hard to explain when you look back and see all the good times you’ve had and all the good people you’ve met throughout our journey. It’s been a hell of a ride, I can tell you.”
California Chrome’s only loss last year came in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) where he was second to 3-year-old champion Arrogate, his main rival in the 1 1/8-mile Pegasus. Following the race he will begin his stud career at Taylor Made Farm.
“He’ll just jog and gallop into the race,” Sherman said. “We’d like to school him in the paddock one day because it’s a little different setup than he’s seen and we’ll stand him in the gate, all the fundamental things we do going toward a race.”
South Florida was well-represented at the Eclipse Awards led by Javier Castellano, Gulfstream’s five-time defending Championship Meet leading rider who earned his fourth consecutive trophy as outstanding jockey.
Castellano, 39, matched Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey (2000-03) as the only riders to earn four consecutive Eclipse Awards. The Venezuela native led all North American jockeys in both mount earnings ($26.8 million) and graded stakes wins (35) in 2016.
“This is quite an honor. This award means so much to me. I came to the United States from Venezuela when I was 18 years old. I spoke no English at all. I had little money. I didn’t know anyone, but I had a dream of a better future,” Castellano said. “On that first day I remember arriving at Miami International Airport. I took a taxi to Calder Race Course and it cost me $100. I was shocked. I was nervous. I didn’t know if I made a wrong decision but I stuck with my dream. I feel fortunate and blessed to have gone so far. I truly love what I do. It is a joy to get to do it every day.”
Based at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County, Chad Brown took home his first Eclipse as leading trainer. He led all North American trainers with $23.1 million in purse money and 42 graded stakes wins. Among his top horses was Flintshire, named champion turf male.
“I’m getting the award but like I’ve said all year, I can’t do it without my staff. So many talented, dedicated people work with me side by side every day,” Brown said. “I’m so lucky to have so many wonderful clients to train for that provide us with these talented horses to work with, and they roll with us through the highs and lows of this game.”
Two other horses stabled at Palm Meadows were honored with Eclipse Awards. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Classic Empire, considered the leading Triple Crown contender in the country, was chosen as champion 2-year-old male, while Tepin, the first American-based horse to win the Queen Anne Stakes (G1) at Royal Ascot, was voted champion turf female. Both horses are trained by Mark Casse, himself an Eclipse finalist.
"Very unreal," Casse said. "I remember a few years ago when Uncaptured was a final three, but we knew we had no chance of winning. It was an honor then, and to sit now and think that we actually had winners is amazing, just amazing."
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