For the 238 voters for the Eclipse Awards, this year's Breeders Cup created more questions than it answered. With the deadline on Jan. 4, the electorate--turf writers, Daily Racing Form voters and racing secretaries from most of the major tracks--is faced with the toughest ballot since the program started in 1971.
The Breeders' Cup is designed to determine championships--that's the reason it's scheduled so late in the year--but it's possible that six of the seven winners on Cup day last month at Hollywood Park still won't win an Eclipse.
Of the seven Breeders' Cup winners, only Ferdinand is assured of a title--in the male handicap division--and even he could be outvoted in the horse-of-the-year balloting. Theatrical, another Breeders' Cup winner, may be this year's Exceller--a horse with loads of credentials, but one who still comes up empty at voting time.
Here's a look at the horse categories on the Eclipse ballot:
Two-year-old colt--Success Express won the Breeders' Cup race but then was badly beaten by a stablemate, Tejano, in the Hollywood Futurity last Sunday. Forty Niner, a Breeders' Cup absentee, is the likely champion.
Two-year-old fillies--Although Epitome won the Breeders' Cup race, she was still a maiden until mid-October and couldn't beat ordinary horses during a summer campaign in New York. Because this division is so scrambled, there will be no satisfactory winner. The title probably will go to Epitome or Goodbye Halo, who didn't run in the Breeders' Cup but won two major races in New York and California late in the year. Over All won four straight races in mid-year, then was eighth and seventh in her last two starts.
Three-year-old colts--Alysheba could be a Breeders' Cup loser who wins. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner converted some doubters by almost beating Ferdinand in the Classic. Java Gold beat older horses twice, and defeated Alysheba on an off track the only time they met, but he missed the Breeders' Cup and didn't run well in his final race.
Three-year-old fillies--The voters must decide between Sacahuista, winner of the Breeders' Cup Distaff, and Personal Ensign, who won all four of her starts and never faced Sacahuista.
Handicap males--Ferdinand is the only sure thing in the entire election.
Handicaps female--Infinidad's owner, Arthur Hancock, had a $1-million offer for the mare before the Breeders' Cup. Infinidad bled in the Breeders' Cup and ran last in a subsequent race, with the offer and the title disappearing. North Sider also lost in the Breeders' Cup, so by default the title may go to Coup de Fusil, who would then become the most quickly forgotten Eclipse champion.
Turf males--Theatrical's win over Trempolino in the Breeders' Cup would be good enough for the title in most years, but there are still the sticklers who say that Theatrical never beat Manila.
Turf females--Blurry-eyed from the inconsistency of this division, the voters may settle for Miesque, winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile and a filly with excellent European form. There may be some, however, who feel that a horse who ran only once in America doesn't qualify. The problem for them is that there's no one else.
Sprinter--Will the vote go to Very Subtle, the upset winner of the Sprint, or will it be Groovy, undefeated this year before he was tripped up in the Breeders' Cup?
Horse of the year--Ferdinand, because of his win in the Breeders' Cup, and due to the tremendous popularity of his jockey, Bill Shoemaker, and trainer, Charlie Whittingham, appears to have the upper hand. But Theatrical did much more while running strictly on grass, and there are still the die-hards for Java Gold.
The ballot for handicap male underscores what a weak year it was for horses in this division. Voters can vote for anyone, but the committee that suggests finalists obviously was hard-pressed to come up with even 11. The group included these horses:
Bolshoi Boy, who didn't win a major race all year.
Bordeaux Bob, who won only one stake and just 3 of 16 races overall.
Broad Brush, a good horse early in the year who didn't win after July 4.
Little Bold John, who did his winning in minor races in Maryland.
Nostalgia's Star, who won only 2 of 13 starts and late in the year went East, where by being competitive he proved how mediocre the division was.
Skip Trial, who won a major race in Florida in March and then was overmatched by the so-called top company the rest of the way.
Snow Chief, who started strongly and then was retired after being injured at mid-year.
Waquoit, a New England horse who was 5 for 6, but who ran only one strong race in the big leagues.
The only other contenders listed by the screening committee were Ferdinand, Creme Fraiche and Judge Angelucci.
The ninth race at Hollywood Park on Dec. 9 was listed as 1 1/16 miles on grass when trainers entered their horses, it was listed at that distance on the entry sheet and it was still 1 1/16 miles in the Daily Racing Form.