In what was to almost everybody's surprise and a stunning upset, after just one win, albeit that one by 11 1/2 lengths in the G1 Grand National Hurdle on Oct.15 at Fair Hills in New Jersey, the Irish invader, T.J. McDonald's Hewick, trained by John "Shark"Hanlon, was voted the Eclipse Award winner.
Bred in Ireland, and bought for $991 at the 2017 Goresbridge Bloodstock Sale, the rags to riches Hewick had previously won twice in England and Ireland in 2022, and only ran the one time in the U.S, returning after the race to his home base in Ireland.
Hewick has yet to run in 2023.
Hewick beat the other two Eclipse nominees, Snap Decision and Down Royal, with Hewick receiving 113 votes to Snap Decision's 88 and Down Royal's 15.
Snap Decison, owned by Bruton Street-US and trained by Jack Fisher, had won the G1 Iroquois and the G1 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga but finished sixth in the Grand National, while Down Royal, owned by Joseph F. Fowler, Jr., and trained by Kate Dalton, had won the G1 A.P. Smithwick and the G2 David L. (Zeke) Ferguson, but didn't run in the Grand National.
DOWN ROYAL was the National Steeplechase Assocation's Filly & Mare Champion, and, although denied the Eclipse Award, Snap Decision won the NSA's award as the Leading Money Won Horse of the year with $220,500, with both those awards presented at the awards dinner in Baltimore on Jan. 19.
Despite his incredible record, which includes a streak of nine straight wins at one point in his career and having won the Sheppard by 13 1/4 lengths while carrying 164 pounds, the highest carried by any jumper in decades, Snap Decision has yet to win an Eclipse Award, having been beaten by the Mean Queen in 2021 and his stablemate Moscato in 2020 when he was still a novice.
His owners, Charlie Fenwick's, Mike Hankin's and Charlie Noell's Bruton Street-US, won the Leading Owner, Money Won with $450,750 with seven winners, six seconds and five thirds from 34 starters.
"We went down to to the awards ceremony (which was held Thursday, Jan. 26 at The Breakers Palm Beach)," said Fenwick. "I was equally surprised (by the rest of the steeplechase community). But, upon reflection, historically, for all the Eclipse Awards, they go to the horse that has a good race in the fall, often the Breeders Cup for the flat horses. And we threw in a clunker in the biggest race of the year. If our season had ended after Saratoga, it might have been different. So I can build a case for Hewick's winning the award."
Snap Decision is still only 9 years old, so for a steeplechase horse he has plenty of time yet.
"We haven't sat down yet, the three of us with Jack, to map out our plan for this year," said Fenwick. "The focus will be on what do we have to do to have Snap win the Eclipse Award. You'd like to think he might make the Hall of Fame one day, but an Eclipse Award would make it almost a positive."
"We won that award in the last race meet of the year," said Fenwick of winning the Leading Owner, Money Won."We won a race to just be ahead of Irv Naylor. Irv had every bit as good a season as we did. It's nice that things were so competitive."
With $450,750 in money won, Bruton Street was just $27,000 ahead of Naylor.
Bruton Street also owns the NSA 2022 Novice Champion, Proven Innocent, also trained by Fisher, who broke his maiden at Iroguois, won a Saratoga allowance race and then beat the 2021 Eclipse Award winner The Mean Queen in the William Entenmann Novice Stakes at Saratoga, just catching the mare at the wire for the win.
With both Snap Decision and Proven Innocent, as well as a number of other top jumpers, Bruton Street could be looking a t a very prosperous 2023.
LESLIE YOUNG was the Leading Trainer, Races Won, with 37 winners, including the Timber Champion Andi'amu.
Only Fisher and Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard have amassed that many wins in one year.
"It's an honor, and a bit of a relief as well," said Young. "It's something we wanted to achieve, and it feels like an accomplishment. It was a team effort, the horses, the owners and the staff. We wouldn't be there without them."
"It's gratifying after all the hard work," said Young."When Paddy got hurt, we lost half our horses. That was our livelihood. It was sheer determination on my part that I could prove that I was good enough to train those horses."
"Hopefully, we'll give it another go this year,"she said. "We're not going to really change anything we do, keep our horses healthy and happy and pick the right spots for them."
"I though maybe last year would be Andi'amu's last, but his owner, Mr. Collins, wants to keep him in training. We have a lot of timber horses, but we don't have a grade one hurdle horse."
PARKER HENDRIKS, who was only 18 during the 2022 season, was the Leading Jockey, both Races Won and Money Won.
In only his third year on the NSA circuit, Hendriks won 25 races and $730,850.
Only Paddy Young has ever won more races, having won 27 in 2011.
"Winning that is everything I've ever wanted to do, ever since I started riding," said Hendkiks. "It just came sooner than I expected. Hopefuly, I can repeat again this year."
And riding as stable jockey for Keri Brion, Leading Trainer, Money Won, Hendriks certainly has a good shot at repeating.
"We have quite a nice batch of horses," said Hendriks. "And we have some nice Irish horses coming over, nine of them. We have a lot off the flat as well. We have some nice fillies and a nice team of novices. The trickiest hing for me will be picking which one to ride,"
"The only thing we don't have is a lot of maiden claimers, and we have just one timber horse," he said. "But I have my mother's two timber horses to ride."
In 2022, Hendriks rode stakes winners Historic Heart, Iranistan, French Light, Ljay and Molly Fantasy, most of which will return this year.
Brion also saddled the Leading Three-Year-Old, Topic Changer.
The Trainer, Races Won is deemed the important title to win, as usually the Money Won is from purses won by one outstanding horse.
However, last year Brion won that tile by having a large number of winners and stakes winners, not one outstanding horse.
With the barn full of horses Brion has assembled, she looks like a force to be reckoned with again this year.
Freddie Procter came over from the UK to ride for Young and won the Leading Apprentice Rider title, riding Young's Andi'amu and Tomgarrow among others.