Jennifer Morrison’s 2018 Sovereign Award Picks

Don't overlook western Canada's star horses for the 2018 Sovereign Awards says veteran handicapper Jennifer Morrison who shares her 2018 ballot picks.

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Voting for year-end awards such as the Sovereign Awards or Eclipse Awards is a subjective task that voters attempt to make objective.

With dozens of categories for various horse and horse people awards, those trusted with a vote are expected to choose their champions based on, well, who was the best?

In recent weeks, when the voting for the Eclipse Awards, for America’s best performers, the discussion for Horse of the Year became quite heated on social media platforms. Justify, the sensational three-year-old colt who went from unraced maiden to undefeated Triple Crown winner in less than four months only to be whisked off to stud, would have been a slam dunk in any other year.

But the gritty five-year-old horse Accelerate also had a stellar season, winning six of seven starts, usually with lofty Beyer Speed Figures and by big winning margins. He romped in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to complete his $5 million campaign.

Supporters for Justify, who raced strictly against three-year-olds (and a crop that was arguably modest) were aghast that the Horse of the Year could go any other way.

The Eclipse Awards will be given out on Thursday, January 24th at Gulfstream Park and it would be a surprise if Justify was not named Horse of the Year (yours truly voted for him).

The Sovereign Awards, for Canada’s best, almost always go to Ontario horses or people.

Yes, the class of horses racing at Woodbine in stakes races is often higher than stakes races throughout the west, mostly because there are more horses including those that ship up from the U.S.

There are plenty of voters from western Canadian provinces who can and do support their top performers. However, in past years, weak eastern horses have got the nod over very good western Canadian horses for awards. The last western Canadian horse to win a Sovereign Award was Magic Code, the 1999 Champion Older Female. Only a couple of others, Avant’s Gold (Older Mare, ’91) and Travelling Victor (Horse of the Year, ’83) have taken away trophies.

In 2018, we could (should?) see two western Canadian-based horses win Sovereign Awards.

Having completed my ballot for the 2018 Sovereign Awards, there is every reason that Manitoba-bred and raced Escape Clause should be christened the year’s Champion Older Female. And the three-year-old colt Sky Promise, who marched across three provinces and won the Manitoba, Canadian and BC Derbies, had a Sovereign-worthy season.

Escape Clause, a four-year-old filly by Going Commando – Danger Pay by Circulating, won six stakes races going route distances on the dirt at Assiniboia Downs, Northlands Park and Century Downs. She also won a sprint stake in track record time at Century Downs, another sprint stake at Assiniboia and, for good measure, embarked on a California turf career in November that saw her win the Kathryn Crosby Stakes (through disqualification and placed third and fourth in a pair of Grade 3 races.

Owned and trained by Don Schnell, the filly won both open and restricted stakes races and posted Beyer Speed Figures in the 80s or 90s nine times in her 13 starts during the season. Her eight-race winning streak was won by a combined margin of over 44 lengths and she earned $265,419. Oh, and she did beat Grade 3 Ballerina Stakes winner Victress in one of those wins.

Who is her competition for the Sovereign? Ontario does not have many major distance races for older mares and, in fact, three of them were won by Gamble’s Ghost, who raced just five times during the year. Ivan Dalos’ 5-year-old won the listed Belle Mahone and the Grade 3 Trillium and Ontario Matron Stakes by a total of one-length with Beyer Figures of 89, 90 and 89 respectively.

There were no other dominant older females during the season on main tracks, on turf or in sprints. In fact, the only other eligible stakes winners in route races on the main track (remember, turf and sprinters have their own categories) were BC’s Notis the Jewell, Top Quality and Victress.

We didn’t get to see Escape Clause in Ontario but let’s hope we see Schnell and her breeders Cam Ziprick and Barry Arnason at the Sovereign Awards in April.

As for Sky Promise, a Kentucky-bred son of Sky Mesa, claimed by Clayton and Rick Weist and the R6 Stable through trainer Robertino Diodoro for $40,000 at Churchill Downs, he was the most accomplished sophomore in a modest year for 3-year-old males in Canada.

Sky Promise travelled to Assiniboia Downs to win the Manitoba Derby by more than seven lengths and comfortably won the Grade 3 Canadian and B C Derbies at Northlands and Hastings Park respectively. Stakes placed at Turfway park earlier in the year, the colt ended his season with a troubled fifth place finish in the $250,000 Zia Park Derby in New Mexico.

His counterparts in Ontario, those that won stakes races at route distances on the main track, included just O’Kratos, who won the Grade 3 Marine Stakes and Lookin to Strike, winner of the Grade 3 Ontario Derby.

Other sophomores in Ontario who won stakes included turfers Neepawa (Breeders’ Stakes), March to the Arch and Silent Poet.

Of course the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales, the two biggest main track races for three-year-olds were both won by the filly Wonder Gadot. Both Aheadbyacentury and Cooler Mike placed in those races but neither won a stakes race in 2018.

I confidently voted for Sky Promise as the Champion Three-Year-Old Male and would be shocked if he did not win.

Not everyone will agree who they saw as the best of each division so with that in mind, here is my Sovereign Award ballot:

Two-Year-Old Colt – Avie’s Flatter
Two-Year-Old Filly – My Gal Betty

Three-Year-Old Colt – Sky Promise
Three-Year-Old Filly – Wonder Gadot

Older Male – Mr. Havercamp
Older Female – Escape Clause

Male Sprinter – Pink Lloyd
Female Sprinter – Moonlit Promise

Male Turf – Mr Havercamp
Female Turf – Starship Jubilee

Horse of the Year – Wonder Gadot

Broodmare – Loving Vindication

Owner – Chiefswood Stable
Breeder – Ivan Dalos (Tall Oaks Farm)

Trainer – Norm McKnight
Jockey – Eurico Rosa da Silva
Apprentice Jockey – Kazushi Kimura