02/19/2002 12:00AM

2 for 2 is enough in jumps

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Pompeyo was honored on Monday with the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding steeplechaser of 2001, a month after he was euthanized because of complications from a leg injury.

Pompeyo won both his starts in 2001 - a $50,000 stakes for novices over two miles in Camden, S.C., on March 31 and the Grade 1, $185,875 Royal Chase at Keeneland on April 27.

A Chilean-bred, Pompeyo was trained by Sanna Neilson for George Strawbridge's Augustin Stable. Strawbridge and Neilson had all three finalists for the Eclipse Award; the other two were Lord Zada and Praise the Prince.

Pompeyo was voted champion in an open year among American steeplechasers. Seven other horses won Grade 1 stakes - Al Skywalker, Electron, It's a Giggle, Lord Zada, Praise the Prince, Quel Senor, and Rand - but none had two Grade 1 victories.

Pompeyo's win at Keeneland in the Royal Chase was the difference. Facing a strong field that included 2000 Eclipse Award winner All Gong, Pompeyo was held up at the back of the field until the final run down the backstretch. When he took the lead three fences from the finish, Pompeyo quickly drew clear to win by three lengths over All Gong in course-record time of 4:34.56 for 2 1/2 miles.

"He was pretty exceptional," Neilson said. "Physically and mentally, he was tougher than everything else. He was like a big ball of muscle. He really enjoyed the jumping and had great stamina. When he realized he was the best jumper out there, his mental attitude changed. He became very cocky."

Last September, while being prepared for a fall campaign, Pompeyo was kicked by another horse, resulting in a severe cut and a leg fracture. Although surgery stabilized the fracture, an infection from the cut damaged an elbow joint. His condition deteriorated in early January and the 8-year-old was euthanized on Jan. 19.

"He had a terrific career in a short amount of time," Neilson said. "I think he was extraordinary. I know our sport didn't get to see the best of him."