01/18/2002 12:00AM

84 finalists for top state honors

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - Graded stakes winners Critical Eye, Gander, and Say Florida Sandy were among the nominees released on Wednesday by the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. for 2001 New York-bred divisional championships.

The NYTB's board of directors sorted through the past performances of 700 New York-breds and selected a total of 84 nominees in nine divisions.

The criteria used by the NYTB to whittle down the hundreds of New York-breds was that a horse must be a stakes winner or stakes-placed in a graded race to qualify as a nominee.

The names of the nominees have been placed on a ballot and will be voted on by New York turf writers and the racing secretaries of the New York Racing Association and Finger Lakes.

There are no nominees for Horse of the Year - the voters simply are asked to write in the name of the horse they believe is most worthy of the title.

The New York-bred steeplechase champion will be selected by the management of The Steeplechase Times, the industry newspaper.

All the New York-bred winners will be revealed on March 26 at an award ceremony hosted by the NYTB at the Desmond Hotel in Albany, N.Y.

At a later date, the NYTB will announce the nominees for trainer and breeder of the year, as well as top broodmare of 2001. The NYTB's board of directors will vote on these categories and those winners also will be announced at the awards dinner.

In the 4-year-old and up male division, Gander and Say Florida Sandy, the likely front-runners in Horse of the Year voting, are the favorites. Scottish Halo also should attract votes for his win in the Empire Classic during New York Showcase Weekend at Belmont Park.

Gander, New York's Horse of the Year in 2000 and defending champion in this division, won the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup during a campaign that pitted the gelding against the best handicap horses in the country. Say Florida Sandy, a sprinter, won six of 15 starts, including the Grade 2 True North, and led New York-breds in earnings for the year with $615,420.

Critical Eye and Dat You Miz Blue head the nominees for top older female. Critical Eye, the 2000 champion 3-year-old filly, was the only New York-bred last year to win a Grade 1, which she accomplished in the Hempstead. Critical Eye also won the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay and is likely to receive votes in the Horse of the Year category. Dat You Miz Blue won five of 10 starts in 2001, including the Grade 3 Vagrancy, Broadway, and Ready Jet Go Stakes.

Say Florida Sandy, a winner of multiple titles as a champion New York-bred sprinter, is a heavy favorite to win the sprint championship again.

The 2-year-old filly division was a strong one last year. Shesastonecoldfox, a winner of three stakes, is the favorite to win the championship, but Princess Dixie won more money ($201,840) and finished the season powerfully with back-to-back stakes wins. What will hurt Princess Dixie is the fact she finished second behind Shesastonecoldfox on the three occasions they met.

White Ibis reeled off three consecutive stakes wins and is the favorite among 2-year-old colts and geldings.

The 3-year-old male division is not so clear-cut because there are no standouts in the bunch. Three different horses won legs of the Big Apple Triple: Solar Deputy (Mike Lee); Sweet Ricky (New York Derby); and Personal Pro (Albany). Sweet Ricky could win the tiebreaker with his win on Dec. 30 in the Alex M. Robb.

Along Came Mary holds an edge in the 3-year-old filly division with back-to-back stakes wins in the New York Oaks and the Maryland Million Oaks.

Ransom's Pride, a contender in the 3-year-old filly category, is also among the nominees for female grass runner and stands an excellent chance to win with her victories against older fillies and mares in the Yaddo and Ticonderoga. Shopping for Love, Truebreadpudding, and Wake Up Kiss are also nominees in this competitive division.

Gander also qualified as a nominee in the male turf category based on his runner-up performance in the Grade 3 New Hampshire Sweepstakes at Rockingham Park. A more likely winner is I'm All Yours, the winner of the West Point and Mohawk handicaps.

o First-year sire Rock and Roll, a son of Cure the Blues, arrived at Dutchess Views Farm in Pine Plains, N.Y. last week and will stand there for $3,500 in 2002. Rock and Roll is a graded stakes winner of more than $700,000 and owns the track record for 1 1/16 miles on the main track at Belmont Park. Rock and Roll is out of the stakes-producing mare Secret's Halo.