The Eclipse Awards ballots have been distributed, and the Daily Racing Form past performances for the top candidates contain six steeplechase contenders. In alphabetical order, they are: Stonelea Stable’s Balance the Budget, Hudson River Farms’ Iranistan, Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime, Mark W. Buyck Jr.’s Show Court, and Rosbrian Farm’s and Meadow Run Farm’s Zanjabeel.
While members of the three voting groups—National Thoroughbred Racing Association racing secretaries, Daily Racing Form editorial employees, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters members—can cast their ballots for any deserving candidate, most voters determine their picks from the Form’s past performances.
The ballots are due on Jan. 2, and the NTRA will announce the three finalists in each division shortly thereafter. The winners will be announced at the Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24, one week after the annual awards dinner and dance sponsored by the National Steeplechase Association and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association at the Maryland Club in Baltimore.
Here are capsule descriptions of the six steeplechase candidates, based on the level of races they won and purse earnings.
Zanjabeel. Trained by Ricky Hendriks, the five-year-old won the Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in May and Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1) in September. Prior to his two Grade 1 wins, he was second in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) and the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2). His earnings from four starts totaled $265,500, the second-highest in 2018.
Optimus Prime. Also trained by Hendriks, Optimus Prime won his U.S. debut in the New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr.1) at Saratoga Race Course and was third in the Lonesome Glory. He completed his U.S. campaign with a runaway 18-length win in the David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) at the International Gold Cup. He earned $167,500 in the U.S., the third-highest total for the year.
Jury Duty. Trained by leading Irish horseman Gordon Elliott, Jury Duty pulled away to a 3 1/4-length victory in Far Hills’ Grand National (Gr. 1) on Oct. 20 and was the year’s leading earner with $270,000 from his U.S. start.
Show Court. Trained by Arch Kingsley Jr., Show Court scored a one-length victory in Saratoga’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) in late July and was fourth in both the New York Turf Writers and the Ferguson. He earned $122,000 over fences.
Balance the Budget. Trained by Julie Gomena, Balance the Budget cut all the fractions and won the Colonial Cup by 6 1/4 lengths on March 31. He subsequently finished third in the Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) on May 5. He earned $97,500 from his two starts.
Iranistan. A four-year-old trained by Jonathan Sheppard, Iranistan won his first three starts over fences, including the Iroquois Steeplechase’s Marcellus Frost Champion Hurdle for novices on May 12. He jumped into open company at Saratoga and finished second in the Smithwick and third in the New York Turf Writers. He was the year’s fourth-leading earner with $145,000.