01/22/2008 1:26AM

An Early Evening

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BEVERLY HILLS -- There were two small surprises at tonight's Eclipse Awards dinner, neither involving the results of the 17 races for trophies, all of which went to the expected recipients.

The first was the announcement by Curlin's owners, as they accepted the Horse of the Year award, that last year's champion 3-year-old will race again this year at 4. Curlin's future had been in limbo due the complications surrounding his ownership, but co-owner Jess Jackson said from the podium that despite some internal disagreements about whether to "take the money" and retire the colt to stud, he would continue to race because it would be good for racing.

The other surprise was that the awards ceremony, often a seemingly endless affair featuring windy orations by overserved winners, actually ended 45 minutes ahead of schedule. The unexpected brevity of the event forced TVG to abandon its live coverage half an hour before schedule, filling the hole with a rerun of the 2000 Arc de Triomphe broadcast (Sinndar beat Egyptband by 1 1/2 lengths with Montjeu a disappointing fourth as the favorite.)

As it turned out, not a single category was close. The narrowest margin came in the older-horse division, where Lawyer Ron outpolled Invasor by a tally of 147 to 94. This was the category where I made my only bet on the results, wagering a colleague that Lawyer Ron would get two-thirds of the votes. He only got 55 percent, because in addition to the 94 voters who were willing to give Invasor a championship off a two-race campaign, there were 13 votes cast for Corinthian, 4 for Lava Man, 3 for English Channel, 2 for Student Council and 4 abstentions. I would love to hear the reasoning from the two people who thought Student Council was the champion older horse of 2007. Not to mention the thinking behind the single votes cast for Hard Spun as champion 3-year-old, Take d'Tour as champion older filly and Rutherienne as champion turf filly.

Here's the complete first-place voting. You may notice some differences between the order of finish and the official finalists, because only first-place votes are counted for winning each division, while second- and third-place votes are counted only for determining finalists. For example, Pyro received no first-place votes (not surprising since he lost to War Pass three times) but was the actual second-place finisher in the 2-year-old division voting.

The most dramatic example of this was in the male-sprinter division: Hard Spun received 18 first-place votes, the second most, but was not a finalist because the vast majority of voters did not take him seriously as a candidate for that title and did not list him second or third. Similarly, Invasor got the third-most Horse of the Year votes (with 2) behind Curlin and Rags to Riches, but Street Sense was the third finalist for the award on the basis of place and show votes.

Horse of the Year
Curlin 249
Rags to Riches 12
Invasor 2
Corinthian 1
English Channel 1
Street Sense 1
Abstentions 1

Two-year-old
War Pass 262
Court Vision 1
Kodiak Kowboy 1
Nownownow 1
Abstentions 2.

Two-year-old filly
Indian Blessing 250
Country Star 11
Pure Clan 2
Cry and Catch Me 1
Mushka 1
Proud Spell 1
Abstentions 1.

Three-year-old
Curlin 262
Street Sense 3
Hard Spun 1
Abstentions 1

Three-year-old filly
Rags to Riches 258
Octave 4
Panty Raid 2
Dream Rush 1
Lear’s Princess 1
Abstentions 1

Older male
Lawyer Ron 147
Invasor 94
Corinthian 13
Lava Man 4
English Channel 3
Student Council 2
Abstentions 4

Older female
Ginger Punch 247
Nashoba’s Key 18
Take D’ Tour 1
Abstentions 1

Male sprinter
Midnight Lute 229
Hard Spun 18
Fabulous Strike 9
Idiot Proof 3
Diabolical 2
Greg’s Gold 1
In Summation 1
Mach Ride 1
Smokey Stover 1
Abstentions 2.

Female sprinter
Maryfield 155
Dream Rush 61
River’s Prayer 32
Hystericalady 12
Abstentions 7

Turf male
English Channel 251
Kip Deville 6
After Market 5
Cloudy’s Knight 1
Daytona 1
Doctor Dino 1
Shakespeare 1
Abstentions 1

Turf female
Lahudood 188
Nashoba’s Key 43
Precious Kitten 16
Citronnade, 7
Bit of Whimsy 3
Panty Raid 3
Honey Ryder 2
Mrs. Lindsay 1
Rutherienne 1
Wait a While 1
Abstentions 2

Steeplechase horse
Good Night Shirt 222
McDynamo 13
Floodlights 1
Planets Aligned 1
Abstentions 30

Owner
Shadwell Stable 144
Stronach Stables 59
Maggi Moss 18
West Point 8
James Tafel 7
Zayat Stables 5
Curlin ownership group 4
James Scatuorchio 3
Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith 3
Jess Jackson 2
Fares Farm 1
Fox Hill Farms 1
Louis D. O’Brien 1
Melnyk Racing Stables 1
Abstentions 10

Breeder
Adena Springs 203
Fares Farm 13
Martin and Pam Wygod 12
William S. Farish 11
James Tafel 8
Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey 2
Skara Glen Stables 2
Farnsworth Farms 1
Juddmonte Farms 1
Eugene Melnyk 1
Abstentions 13.

Trainer
Todd Pletcher 139
Steve Asmussen 65
Kiaran McLaughlin 39
Carl Nafzger 9
Bill Mott 5
Scott Lake 3
Dale Baird 1
Larry Jones 1
Graham Motion 1
Abstentions 4

Jockey
Garrett Gomez 248
Robby Albarado 11
Russell Baze 2
Calvin Borel 1
Ramon Dominguez 1
Abstentions 4

Apprentice jockey
Joe Talamo 254
Carol Cedeno 2
Arnaldo Bocachica 1
Abstentions 10

Vegas
--The award-winner who's odds-on to have the shortest reign is Stanley Bavlish, who was honored as the Handicapper of the Year for his victory 359 days ago in the National Handicapping Championship. Bavlish will have to beat 277 new challengers this Friday and Saturday in the 2008 NHC at the Red Rock in Las Vegas to hold on to his title for another year.

It seems kind of silly for me to go all the way back to New York just to come back to Vegas two days later, so I suppose I'll have to play some cards or something for a couple of days to pass the time.