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The 41st annual Eclipse Award finalists have been announced and once again the horse racing world will honor excellence from the past year’s racing season, including Horse of the Year. While Horse of the Year finalists will not be announced until the night of the ceremony, more than likely Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom and Havre De Grace, who won five times in seven 2011 starts including the Woodward, will be among that group. The awards ceremony is to be held on January 16th in Beverly Hills, California and will draw the biggest names in thoroughbred racing. Two of the most hotly contested categories will be the 2-year-old males, which could hold a future Kentucky Derby winner, and the trainer of the year spot, which has three highly visible and prestigious finalists.

One of the most competitive categories will be the male 2-year-old group. Gray, Kentucky-bred speedster Hansen won all three of his starts in 2011 and has already topped one million dollars in earnings. He had no trouble moving to the 1 1/16 mile distance after winning his first race of 5 ½ furlongs. His biggest win came in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile as he took Union Rags by a head. Creative Cause, another gray colt, started five times, winning three of those, including the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita. The biggest Kentucky Derby favorite in this group, checking in at 10-1, is Union Rags. Union Rags had a tremendous year, winning the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont, the Saratoga Special, and just missing victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. These three colts are going to be among a strong group of 3-year-olds to watch as we approach the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky.

The finalists for 2011’s Eclipse Trainer of the Year, is a succesful and familiar group, but not one without a bit of head scratching. Top earnings champion, Todd Pletcher, is the favorite and will be looking for his record sixth Eclipse in the category. Pletcher-trained horses earned over $17 million and won 85 stakes races. Bob Baffert is also in the running, finishing third in earnings and winning 41 stakes races, including his first Malibu Stakes victory behind The Factor. Rounding out the group is Bill Mott, who won this category both in 1995 and 1996. In 2011, Mott trained his thoroughbreds to almost $11 million in earnings. He trained winners in 15 graded stakes races, including six in the month of November alone. Two trainers who did not make the cut were Steve Asmussen and Graham Motion. Asmussen, the trainer of 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia (finalist and favorite in the 2-year-old female category), and the second place finisher in earnings for 2011, had a very strong year reaching the 6,000 win mark for his career back in November. Graham Motion took Animal Kingdom to the winner’s circle after the Kentucky Derby, and finished 6th in earnings with nearly $9 million, but that wasn’t enough to get him in the finalists group. Perhaps Motion can take some pride in the fact that Animal Kingdom, and his owners, Team Valor, are both finalists in their respective categories, with his Derby winning colt being a likely finalist for Horse of the Year.

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