Possible winners of the 2023 Horse of the Year

The big show is over, and after the Breeders’ Cup a different conversation begins. Who will be anointed as champions of 2023? We look at the duel between White Abarrio and Cody’s Wish for the coveted honour of Horse of the Year, and cast an eye over the leading contenders for the other Eclipse Award categories.

Cody’s Wish and White Abarrio Top Contenders

The dust settles on the Breeders’ Cup, with reputations enhanced and reputations exploded, horses bidding farewell before retiring to stud and others only embarking on what may be glittering, rewarding careers.

The next milestone in US racing takes place off the track, with the Eclipse Awards ceremony at the end of January celebrating the best in the sport through 2023. The biggest prize of all is the one for Horse of the Year, and sometimes it is just a formality – Flightline won the 2022 award with 97 per cent of the vote, and American Pharoah pulled off a 100 per cent landslide for his 2015 campaign.

This time it is up for grabs, in the balance, with no stand-out champion on show. Almost always, the Horse of the Year comes out of the Breeders’ Cup, and this year there are two leading contenders for the crown and one or two on the fringes.

The G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner – whatever the overall quality of the race – is always front and centre in this regard and White Abarrio is no exception. His authoritative defeat of Derma Sotogake and Proxy was not one of the all-time highs the race can provide, but he won it well and his profile stands up to scrutiny.

In August he was a runaway winner of the G1 Whitney at Saratoga, romping by six and a quarter lengths, and with those two major races on his record White Abarrio is a legitimate player for Horse of the Year without being a lock.

However, some voters may not be entirely delighted that trainer Richard Dutrow could be associated with a Horse of the Year just a few months after returning from a ten-year ban for a host of medication violations, and that may affect the way they cast their ballot. Human nature is a factor.

If sentiment is taken into account, Cody’s Wish would be one of those Horse of the Year landslides. The very sad news coming out of Kentucky yesterday, the report of the death of 17-year-old Cody Dorman – whose bond with the horse had transfixed the whole racing world – just a day after the valiant victory of Cody’s Wish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, might reinforce the idea that the now-retired Cody’s Wish needs to be Horse of the Year in tribute. Human nature, again.

His racetrack campaign gives Cody’s Wish excellent credentials anyway. He won three G1s in 2023 – one more than White Abarrio – pocketing the Churchill Downs under the twin spires in May and the Metropolitan at Belmont Park in June, and also took home the G2 Vosburgh at Aqueduct last month.

Cody’s Wish finished ahead of White Abarrio once, and vice versa. Either would be a worthy Horse of the Year, but Dutrow himself hinted at the way the wind would probably blow.

“Cody’s Wish has been going all year long and winning Grade 1s everywhere. I’m not putting my vote in for him, but if they give it to him, I will be behind it a million per cent,” he told the Daily Racing Form.

At awards time, emotion often plays a part. Cody’s Wish is the chalk for Horse of the Year but White Abarrio still has a shot.

The filly Idiomatic, who added the G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff to earlier G1 scores in the Personal Ensign and the Spinster, could enter the conversation but she never beat males, which may put her at a disadvantage. The story of Arcangelo has energised the year, but he did not make it to the Breeders’ Cup, never beat older horses, and among a moderate sophomore crop his G1 Belmont and G1 Travers wins may not inspire voters to look his way.

Eclipse Award nominees

There are awards in every category at the Eclipse ceremony and, as ever, some are in contention while others are so clear-cut that the engraver could get to work inscribing the names today.

Last year’s champion male sprinter Elite Power will add to his trophy cabinet following his impressive victory in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint over old rival Gunite. Earlier victories in the G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga and the G2 True North at Belmont Park reinforce his case.

It should also be back-to-back for last year’s champion female sprinter Goodnight Olive, whose comfortable score in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint gives her an advantage over Echo Zulu, who was injured and retired after beating Goodnight Olive in the G1 Ballerina at Saratoga.

Whichever of White Abarrio and Cody’s Wish wins Horse of the Year will also be champion older dirt male. The aforementioned Idiomatic is a lock to be champion older dirt female, and the same is true of Arcangelo, who is likely to head the three-year-old male category ahead of fellow Triple Crown-race winners Mage and National Treasure, and G1 Pacific Classic winner Arabian Knight.

The Breeders’ Cup invariably solves the juvenile puzzle. Fierceness will take the crown for two-year-old male after his sizzling victory in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Just FYI will be champion two-year-old female following her success in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The champion three-year-old filly award is more contentious, with G1 Kentucky Oaks and G1 Acorn winner Pretty Mischievous in the driving seat, but G1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff runner-up Randomized a serious possibility after that fine effort against her elders.

On the lawn, the Europeans ruled the roost at the Breeders’ Cup but voters tend to prefer to keep the award at home. If that is the case again then three-time G1 winner and G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Up To The Mark is certain to be champion male turf horse, while the female turf horse division is probably a toss-up between G1 Jenny Wiley and G1 Just A Game winner In Italian and G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic winner War Like Goddess, with the former favoured.

Among the humans, the award for outstanding jockey could be between Kentucky Derby/Belmont Stakes/Travers winner Javier Castellano and perennial champ Irad Ortiz, while Bill Mott – trainer of Cody’s Wish, Elite Power and Just FYI – may get the outstanding trainer award ahead of purse-money king Brad Cox.

Sign Up to get your daily horse rebate today! Check out the latest Ky Oaks & Ky Derby Odds!

Preview banner

Don’t forget to come back and check the weekend racing results and the latest horse racing news around the world.

Make sure to follow Horse Racing Tote on social media for more 2023 Horse of the Year updates and the 2023/2024 Road to the Kentucky Derby news!