01/17/2011 5:11PM

Eclipse Awards Marathon Ahead

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MIAMI BEACH -- Two hours before showtime for the Eclipse Awards XL, it's gray and raining here in Miami Beach. You can't walk through the cavernous lobby of the Fontainebleu Hotel without tripping over the connections of a finalist, perhaps not surprising since there are 51 such finalists for tonight's awards, and that's not even counting the entourages of the 14 Breeders' Cup breeders, seven media-award winners, and other honorees getting special awards. Best bet of the night? Take the over, not the under, on the scheduled three-hour running time. [Update: Ooops. They brought it in at a surprisingly snappy 2:46.]

It's going to be a long evening by the time we get to Blame or Zenyatta, one of whose camps will be making at least their third trip to the podium. Each will be honored with a divisional championship, and then their connections will also each be getting a Special Eclipse, one for Claiborne Farm and one for Team Zenyatta. There could be additional podium runs for one or both in the owner, breeder and trainer divisions. For everyone's sake, I hope both camps are seated very close to the stage.

I handicap the Horse of the Year as pick 'em. I thought last year's Rachel Alexandra/Zenyatta dustup was a tougher choice and would be a closer call than the 130-99 tally in Rachel's favor. This year, I've heard people who went for Zenyatta a year ago say they think she didn't have as good a year in 2010, and I've heard Rachel supporters from 2009 say that they're going for Zenyatta this time. 

Even the zealots on both sides seem to be losing steam as the announcement approaches. It feels like the same argument's been going on for a full year since last January's announcement, and I suspect I'm not alone in hoping that the 2011 racing season produces, if nothing else, a more clear-cut Horse of the Year instead of months of bickering and accusations that one side, or the other, or the awards themselves, are ruining the game.

In any case, I'll be back here much later tonight with an analysis of the voting. 

 

---I went straight from the Ft. Lauderdale Airport to Gulfstream yesterday for my first visit in two years, and was pleasantly surprised. It's still not going to please people who grew up on the place as a conventional 20th Century racetrack with a sweeping grandstand and a big backyard. For a 21st Century mixed-use (racetrack/slots/retail) facility, though, it looks good and seems to be working.

The "Village" of Gulfstream, dozens of stores, bars and restaurants directly surrounding the paddock and track, is finally finished after years of construction and renovation. With its open-air, city-grid layout, it feels less like a shopping mall than a shopping district -- picture Rodeo Drive snug up againt a racetrack, if Rodeo Drive had Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn instead of Armani and Bulgari.

Five different outdoor cafes were packed, and none of the brunchers looked or acted like they were there to nail the trifecta in the 4th, but they could hear and sometimess see racing going on nearby. It's not going to drive handle in a meaningful way or placate regulars who want their old Gulfstream back, but at least it presents the game in an attractive way to tourists and newcomers.