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Lighting Up the Eclipse Awards

January 14, 2002|BOB MIESZERSKI

The finalists for the Eclipse Awards, horse racing's version of the Oscars, were revealed late last week and the winners will be announced Feb. 18 at a resort hotel in Miami.

There was never any doubt Point Given would be one of the candidates for horse of the year, and although his career ended prematurely some 41/2 months ago, he deserves to be presented with the sport's biggest honor.

Owned by Prince Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corporation and trained by Bob Baffert, the chestnut son of Thunder Gulch did more than enough during his seven-race campaign to merit the edge over Tiznow.

Apart from his mysterious disappearance in the Kentucky Derby, Point Given was perfect in 2001, winning six races, including two-thirds of the Triple Crown, the Haskell Invitational, the Santa Anita Derby and the Travers.

His Belmont Stakes was arguably the most visually impressive race run by any horse last year and he was able to win the Haskell at Monmouth Park when he didn't run anywhere close to his best.

Tiznow, meanwhile, was only a .500 hitter in 2001, winning three of six.

Besides the Breeders' Cup Classic, he won the Santa Anita Handicap and the San Fernando.

There's no denying Jay Robbins did a masterful training job with the son of Cee's Tizzy, who looked headed for retirement in late spring, and the 4-year-old's second consecutive win in the Breeders' Cup Classic was stirring, but the numbers clearly say Point Given is the right choice.

Here are the opinions on the other Eclipse Awards:

2-Year-Old--Johannesburg. The colt was perfect in six starts in England, France and Ireland, then made a successful transition to the main track and was the clever winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

How the Hennessy colt does in the Triple Crown remains to be seen, but he was clearly best Oct. 27 at Belmont Park.

2-Year-Old Filly--Tempera. She bombed in the Del Mar Debutante, but rebounded nicely with an upset win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Trained by Eoin Harty for Godolphin Racing, Tempera had the advantage of racing on the preferred outside part of the track that day in New York while Bella Bellucci, who entered the Juvenile Fillies perfect in two starts, was trapped on the inside.

3-Year-Old--Point Given. There are no finalists except him and that's the way it should be. He towered over his division and how great would it have been to see him face Tiznow and Sakhee in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

3-Year-Old Filly--Xtra Heat. Yes, she is strictly a sprinter, but what a sprinter she is. She won nine of 13 last year and hasn't lost in 11 starts at six furlongs. Trained by John Salzman, she nearly beat the boys in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Older Male--Tiznow. When he lost to Freedom Crest and Skimming in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita early in October, this award did not seem possible for the California-bred.

However, he stepped his game up in New York and won another hard-fought Breeders' Cup Classic, again edging a classy European (Sakhee). A year ago, he got the best of Giant's Causeway.

Older Female--Tranquility Lake. To be perfectly frank, nobody is truly deserving in a division where they took turns beating each other. Tranquility Lake, at least, was a graded stakes winner on turf and dirt.

In the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, she easily handled Gourmet Girl, also a finalist in this category, and Spain, the other finalist, only won once in nine starts last year.

Male Turf Horse--Fantastic Light. When he scored in the Turf, Fantastic Light became the only winning favorite on the Breeders' Cup card and he capped a tremendous year--and career--with a victory at a distance that wasn't even his best.

Sprinter--Squirtle Squirt. The son of Marquetry gave trainer Bobby Frankel his first Breeders' Cup victory in the Sprint and, for the first time in his career, came from off the pace to win. There were some saying Caller One, Xtra Heat or Kona Gold could have staked their claim to the championship if one of them had won the recent $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel, but the bottom line is, they all failed and all of them had their shot at Squirtle Squirt in the Breeders' Cup and he was the best that afternoon.

Jockey--Jerry Bailey. This is almost becoming a tradition. Bailey, who had a Breeders' Cup win with Squirtle Squirt, was the runaway leader in earnings, totaling a record of nearly $23 million.

Trainer--Frankel. He ended his Breeders' Cup winless streak and won stakes--and Grade I's--in bunches throughout the year.

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