The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced on Saturday the three Eclipse Award finalists in each racing division, and the top trio over fences are, in alphabetical order, Jury Duty, Optimus Prime, and Zanjabeel.
The top three were selected in balloting by NTRA racing secretaries, Daily Racing Form editorial employees, and members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. The Eclipse Award winners, including Horse of the Year, will be announced on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
That announcement comes one week after the steeplechase champions will be honored at the annual awards dinners and dance at the Maryland Club in Baltimore. The dinner is sponsored by the National Steeplechase Association and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association.
The three top steeplechase finalists were not unexpected. Zanjabeel, owned by Rosbrian Farm and Meadow Run Farm, won two Grade 1 races in 2018, the Calvin Houghland Iroquois in May and Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap in September. He also finished second in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) and the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2) in the spring.
Rosbrian’s Optimus Prime won a Grade 1 race, Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup, in his American debut, finished third in the Lonesome Glory, and then ran away with the David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) at the International Gold Cup in October. Ricky Hendriks trained both Zanjabeel and Optimus Prime.
Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, trained by top Irish horseman Gordon Elliott, shipped to the United States for a 3 1/4-length victory in Far Hills’ $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), America’s richest steeplechase race.
Jury Duty will receive the NSA’s Lonesome Glory Award as the year’s leading earner. His $270,000 earnings were $4,500 more than Zanjabeel, who missed the Grand National because of injury.