This is something I can relate to, what with any number of essay and book proposals thrown to the slog pile, cast aside, I can sympathize with the other Eclipse categories these days.
The Rachel v. Zenyatta debate is going to inflame up until and then after the Eclipse Awards no matter who wins. While Horse of the Year is the most polarizing of the categories, Champion Trainer is going to be an equally scintillating race, one that is far from the spotlight, let alone the microscope.
For starters, the two most obvious nominees would have to be Steve Asmussen, trainer of Rachel Alexandra, Kensei, Soul Warrior, and 343 others, and John Shirreffs, trainer of Zenyatta, Life Is Sweet, and the unbeatable Tiago (the last horse in training to finish ahead of Curlin). Who fills the other spot?
My front runner is Tim Ice. A no-name guy up till and through the Travers (just look at all the people passing by him to Chip Woolley at the Stakes Barn at Saratoga), this Louisiana-based trainer rides on the wings of his Summer Bird. From Oaklawn, to Kentucky, to New York, to California, to Japan, Ice never dodged, rather sought out the best in his division and beyond. He won three of the most prestigious Grade 1's in New York with the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was a competitive fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic as a three year old. Worth noting: none of these races are shorter than 10 furlongs.
The careful handling of his chestnut son of Birdstone is worthy of the award alone, but if the handling and management of an elite horse is one of the leading criterion for this award, then Asmussen may have the best shot of them all.
When handed Rachel Alexandra on May 7, 2009, he kept her right and kept her unbeaten in 2009. Asmussen and assistant trainer Scott Blasi cranked her up for a smasing Haskell Invitational and a heart-pounding Woodward Stakes. Since acquiring her they shipped her to Pimlico, Belmont, Monmouth, and Saratoga for a win streak of four Grade 1's (five if you include the Kentucky Oaks).
Shirreffs has the toughest case, but he won two of the most prestigious Grade 1's in North America on back-to-back days with Life Is Sweet in the Ladies Classic and Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
As for other trainers, who can there be? Todd Pletcher had a steady year, but nothing noteworthy. Rick Dutrow, Jr. fell of the face of the planet in 2009. Chip Woolley failed to get Mine That Bird back to the winner's circle after May 2.
Whoever goes to the podium first with this award may forecast who wins Horse of the Year.