Who is horse racing’s top 3-year-old male of the year?

There were more slam dunks on this year’s Eclipse Awards ballot than in a pro basketball game. Some of the choices took about two or three seconds to decide, whereas there were a couple that took a good time to contemplate.

Top 3-year-old male of 2022 was one of those tough choices – Taiba or Epicenter. Let’s examine:

Taiba raced six times last year, winning three Grade I stakes. Epicenter won one Grade I and three Grade IIs in eight starts. He also ran in two of the three Triple Crown races, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

You give points to Taiba for finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic behind Flightline and Olympiad, and you can discount his 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby because he didn’t belong in the race. It was only his third start and he wasn’t ready for such an undertaking.

Both colts are worthy of the award, but I went with Taiba by virtue of his three Grade I victories and the fact he seemed to be improving as the year went on. His victory in the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita on Dec. 26 showed he’s capable of putting up a 4-year-old campaign worth remembering.

It’s interesting to read comments on social media by people who act as though there’s no other choice but Epicenter. Nonsense. I can see a vote either way, and would venture to guess that a lot of the anti-Taiba sentiment comes from the anti-Bob Baffert group. They want to punish the horse because of their dislike for Baffert.

Flightline will win Horse of the Year hands down when the Eclipse Awards winners are announced Jan. 26, but it wont be unanimous. One voter has already written that he can’t vote for Flightline because he raced only three times. Others may abstain for the same reason.

Again, I say nonsense. Where in the voting rules does it say a horse has to make a minimum amount of starts to be considered for an Eclipse? Nowhere. The fact Flightline won three Grade I races – the Met Mile, Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic – by a combined 33½ lengths says it all. His victory in the Pacific Classic by a race-record 19¼ lengths left fans remembering Secretariat’s 31-length romp in the 1973 Belmont.

Whether Flightline raced only three times or eight times, it doesn’t matter. He was far and away the best horse on this planet in 2022. We’ll never know how many fans watched the Breeders’ Cup Classic just because they wanted to see him strut his stuff, and he delivered in a big way, cruising to an 8¼-length victory over Olympiad while leaving a very good horse, Life Is Good, in his wake.

Then there were the tomahawk slam dunks on my ballot – Forte as top 2-year-old male; Wonder Wheel top 2-year-old filly; Nest top 3-year-old filly; Malathaat top older dirt female; Goodnight Olive top female sprinter; Modern Games top male turf horse; and Regal Glory as top female turf horse.

In individual honors, Irad Ortiz Jr. was an easy choice as top jockey, and it didn’t take long to mark Chad Brown down as top trainer. I voted Godolphin as top owner and breeder for the year.

There was one category where perhaps sentimentality entered into my decision making.

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Cody’s Wish was one of the top horse racing stories of 22, as documented in last week’s column, and I felt his contribution to the sport deserved an Eclipse Award. He wasn’t the best male sprinter of the year, but I gave him my first-place vote in that division so he’d be honored. He did win the Grade I Forego at Saratoga on Aug. 27 in his only try at a sprint. He won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland and was 4 of 5 with a second on the year.

After the touching story that was told time and again on racing telecasts throughout the year, Cody’s Wish deserves an Eclipse Award. So go ahead and accuse me of being an sentimental sap. I’ll wear the tag proudly.

Follow Art Wilson on Twitter @Sham73

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