Include Me Out left outIn a year of "wide open" Eclipse Award divisions, one filly routinely gets left out of division leader discussions, and that's Include Me Out, whose pairs of Grade 1 and Grade 2 wins easily stands tallest among her peers in the older female division.
No other older female has multiple Grade 1 wins routing, and the two fillies who would most likely be favored in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic--Awesome Feather and Royal Delta--have no Grade 1 wins among them this year. Both champions are competitive at the Grade 1 level, but it is past time for them to show us that this year.
Include Me Out should have the clearest cut path to an Eclipse Award, but that she doesn't enforces trainer Ron Ellis's feeling that her reputation (or lack of one) is the victim of an "East Coast bias" among the press.
"To tell you the truth, I've been a little insulted by the lack of respect my filly has gotten," Ellis said Tuesday during America's Best Racing's weekly media teleconference. "She's proven she's the best filly on the West Coast. ... Usually when [East Coast horses] hook our California horses, reality sets in. It just feels like we're not getting as much credit."
It's widely accepted that if Awesome Feather were to win the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic that she would deserve champion older female honors, and that is an idea that flies only because she is based on the East Coast. If a West Coast-based or Midwest-based older female won the Ladies' Classic off a restricted and listed stakes win then we'd be hearing about all the weak competition she faced all year.
Truth be told, I see Awesome Feather as the most likely winner of the Ladies' Classic at this point, and she certainly could go on to win another important race in the fall to seal a championship (and maybe even Horse of the Year with a Clark victory?), but to think that the Ladies' Classic would be enough for an Eclipse is ridiculous.
Don't get me wrong, Include Me Out still has to prove it, and here's how:
1. Win the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic on November 2 at Santa Anita Park. Obviously if she does this, she's the older female champion unless someone from that division were to win the Breeders' Cup Classic.
2. Win the Zenyatta Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita with no other Grade 1 winner winning the Ladies' Classic. You wouldn't know it by the buzz she gets, but Royal Delta hasn't won a Grade 1 race this year, and needs to sweep the Beldame & Ladie's Classic to get my Eclipse Award vote. I'd also vote for any multiple Grade 1-winning Ladies Classic winner over Include Me Out even if the latter wins the Zenyatta.
"Most accomplished" does not mean "fastest" or "best", but it is a mantle that deserves respect, and I agree with Ron Ellis that Include Me Out isn't getting enough respect as a two-time Grade 1 winner and four-time graded stakes winner this year. In an era when so many fans lament abbreviated campaigns, Ellis's frustration that Include Me Out isn't viewed as a divisional leader certainly has merit in the face of Awesome Feather's exultation off two non-graded stakes wins.
I'm cheerleading for Include Me Out now because I'm not sure she'll be at the top of this division by the end of the year. Truth be told, I'm for Amani in the Zenyatta, Royal Delta in the Beldame, and one of those two in the Ladies' Classic even though I think Awesome Feather is the most likely winner. So, yeah, Include Me Out is up against it the next five weeks, but that doesn't mean she deserves to be ignored now. She's a major player in the division, and ignoring her in the wagering going forward doesn't mean her accomplishments should be ignored now.