Before diving into that controversy, let's review the other Eclipse Award divisions. As usual, the Breeders' Cup has made things crystal clear in some catgeories and clear as mud in others. (Disclosure: I do not have a vote toward the Eclipse Awards, so the following choices are purely for my amusement---and possible embarrassment, depending on how far afield they prove.)
First, let's walk through the no-brainers. They are Classic Empire (2-year-old male), Songbird (3-year-old female) and California Chrome (older male). All three have resumes that put them head and shoulders above the remainder of their divisions, and their Breeders' Cup performances confirmed their superiority to any possible contenders. Their connections can go ahead and book their arrangements for the Eclipse Awards ceremony right now. I believe that Tepin (turf female) also fits in this category in spite of her having finished her season with two consecutive losses. Tourist, her conqueror in the Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I), is no slouch, and a year in which this brilliant mare disposed of males and females alike while winning Grade or Group I races in the United States, Canada and England should count for something. (Yes, I know that a race in Europe, however prestigious, shouldn't count toward a North American award. The human mind being what it is, I also know that it will impact voters' impressions. In her case, it doesn't really matter.)
Next, there are the nearly no-brainers. While Beholder split her four meetings with Stellar Wind in the older female division, the fact that she evened the score in the biggest distaff race of the season and won over as good a filly as Songbird should seal the deal in her favor. All of the other possible contenders except Cavorting (who missed the race due to injury) finished behind Beholder in the Distaff, and sentiment for the three-time champion as well as the brilliance of Beholder's final bow will probably be enough to keep Cavorting at bay.
After his two brilliant victories in the Travers Stakes (USA-I) and Breeders' Cup Classic (USA-I), Arrogate is also all but certain to walk off with an Eclipse, in his case for champion 3-year-old male. Nyquist was brilliant in the spring and Exaggerator was breathtaking in the slop, but while both have good enough resumes to be finalists for the Eclipse, the holes in those resumes will shoot them down.
The next two categories under discussion are less certain, but I believe strong arguments can be made for Flintshire in the turf male division and Lord Nelson as the best male sprinter. In his first three starts of 2016, Flintshire was clearly far superior to the other grass runners, and his second-place finishes in his last two races were both cases of catching quality horses who found the course conditions perfectly suited to their likings. In the case of Highland Reel, the fact that he was the lone speed in the Breeders' Cup Turf also gave him the chance to dictate the pace to his own advantage. It was an excellent performance, but in my opinion not enough to unseat Flintshire at the top of the division. As for Lord Nelson, he is unbeaten in 2016, including three Grade I wins (more than any other horse in the sprint male division). Two-time Grade I winner A. P. Indian was also unbeaten for the season prior to the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), and Drefong was impressive in winning it, but A. P. Indian finished the season with a fourth-place run in the Sprint and Drefong had his only other Grade I win against his fellow 3-year-olds, giving Lord Nelson the nod so far as I am concerned.
The most muddled divisions after the Breeders' Cup are probably the juvenile fillies and the female sprinters. Grade I wins were scattered in the former division, and "what have you done for me lately" will probably be enough to land the honors for Juvenile Filly winner Champagne Room, who also won the Sorrento Stakes (USA-II) in an up-and-down campaign. The same effect may help the case of Finest City, who certainly deserves credit for consistent efforts in a campaign that took her over intermediate distances as well as sprints and took the measure of the surviving contenders in the Filly and Mare Sprint. A track record in her other sprint win, the Great Lady M. Stakes (USA-II) at Los Alamitos, also helps her case.
Horse of the Year may be the most difficult choice on the entire ballot. Arrogate is incredibly exciting, has turned in two super races back-to-back and owns the edge over California Chrome in direct competition. The problem for me is that while he is clearly the horse of the moment, he wasn't even on the radar screen before August 27, as his first four starts (including a debut loss) were in maiden and optional claiming company. While he defeated older males easily in his two optional claiming wins, the quality of his competition prior to the latter third of the season clearly suffers when compared to what California Chrome manhandled throughout the year. One can argue, of course, that Chrome's races in Dubai shouldn't count, but they will have an impact just as surely as Tepin's win at Ascot will. And so it comes down to how one defines "Horse of the Year": is it the horse who turned in the most compelling performance of the season and was the best in the year-end showcase, or the one who took on all comers at the top level throughout the year and built the best body of work? My head says many will be bedazzled by Arrogate's late-season brilliance, which I cannot but respect, but my heart says California Chrome did what a Horse of the Year should do all year long, and he gets my personal vote for this year's champion among champions.