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Updated on 09/17/2011 10:49AM
Azeri: She's the one!
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Azeri was named 2002 Horse of the Year on Monday night in a runaway as impressive and overwhelming as her title-clinching victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
She carried all three voting blocs - Daily Racing Form, National Turf Writers Association, and National Thoroughbred Racing Association - while receiving first-place votes from 189 of the 225 people who cast ballots for Horse of the Year; there were three abstentions.
Azeri also was a unanimous selection as champion older filly or mare, which had been announced previously, receiving 227 votes; there was one abstention in that category.
Azeri became the first filly to win Horse of the Year since Lady's Sercret in 1986. Azeri won eight times in nine starts and captured five Grade 1 races, including her five-length romp in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. The daughter of Jade Hunter impressed by campaigning from January to October in a year when many top horses departed as quickly as they arrived. Laura de Seroux trained Azeri for the trust of the late Allen Paulson, who bred Azeri.
War Emblem, who was named champion 3-year-old colt, was a distant second in the balloting for Horse of the Year, with 12 votes. Left Bank, who was named champion older horse, earned seven votes to finish in a tie for third with Rock of Gibraltar, whose only start in this country was a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
In the voting for champion male turf horse, Rock of Gibraltar finished a distant third to High Chaparral, his Aidan O'Brien-trained stablemate who won the Breeders' Cup Turf in his lone start in this country.
High Chaparral did not receive any votes for Horse of the Year. The others who received votes for Horse of the Year were Orientate, the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter; Storm Flag Flying, who was a lopsided winner as champion 2-year-old filly; and Medaglia d'Oro, Street Cry, Toccet, Volponi, and Xtra Heat.
Storm Flag Flying nearly equaled Azeri's unanimous acclamation in her division. She was named first on all 46 DRF ballots and on all 52 NTRA ballots. The turf writers, however, cast 128 votes for her, and one for Awesome Humor, giving Storm Flag Flying 226 of the 227 votes cast in that division; there was one abstention.
Other winners were Vindication (2-year-old colt), Farda Amiga (3-year-old filly), Golden Apples (female turf horse), and Flat Top (steeplechaser).
Trainer Bobby Frankel and jockey Jerry Bailey, who each led their rivals in purse earnings and Grade 1 stakes wins last year, won titles, as expected. Ryan Fogelsonger was named champion apprentice jockey. Richard Englander was named champion owner, and Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms won the Eclipse Award for champion breeder.
The winners were announced Monday night at the 32nd annual Eclipse Awards dinner, a black-tie affair held this year at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Most of the results were formful. There were, however, two extremely close calls, one of which undoubtedly will be discussed in the days ahead because the victory was purely a result of the bloc voting system used in the Eclipse Award process.
The votes for Eclipse Awards are not pooled. Instead, much like this country's electoral college, the three sponsoring organizations - DRF, national turf writers, and NTRA - have their votes counted as individual blocs, worth 1 point each. Usually, the same horse or person wins all three blocs, but occasionally there is a split vote and a controversial result.
That was the case this year in voting for champion owner.
Englander, who also was named champion owner in 2001, tied for first place with Juddmonte Farms in the DRF bloc with 10 individual votes each. The late Prince Ahmed bin Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation was third in the DRF bloc, with seven votes. So, under the bloc voting format, Englander and Juddmonte were considered to have split the DRF category, earning a half-point each.
The NTRA bloc, which consists of racing secretaries and Equibase personnel, went to Englander. He got 18 individual votes of that bloc, with Frank Stronach getting 14, The Thoroughbred Corporation nine, and Juddmonte five.
The turf writers, however, overwhelmingly favored The Thoroughbred Corporation, which received 50 first-place votes among members of that bloc. Juddmonte got 15, and Englander 14.
So, even though The Thoroughbred Corporation received 66 individual first-place votes to Englander's 42, Englander earned the Eclipse Award because he was first in one bloc and tied for another bloc, giving him 1.5 points compared with The Thoroughbred Corporation, which was credited with 1 point.
There was another close call in voting for champion breeder, but this time, the bloc voting and overall individual votes ended up on the same side of the ledger.
Juddmonte edged Harry T. Mangurian by 16-15 in the DRF bloc and 34-32 in the turf writers' bloc. Mangurian was narrowly preferred by 20-18 in the NTRA bloc. So, Juddmonte won the Eclipse Award, 2 points to 1, while beating Mangurian by 68-67 in the individual voting. The results were so close that if one DRF voter who preferred Juddmonte had instead gone for Mangurian, Mangurian would have won the Eclipse Award.
There was far less drama in most every other category. Azeri, Vindication, Storm Flag Flying, War Emblem, Farda Amiga, Orientate, High Chaparral, Golden Apples, Flat Top, Bailey, Frankel, and Fogelsonger all were preferred by all three blocs.
The late Left Bank won a split vote for champion older horse, out-polling Volponi, the Breeders' Cup Classic winner, and Street Cry, who won the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster Handicap.
Left Bank carried the DRF bloc, earning 22 first-place votes to nine for Volponi and five for Street Cry. Left Bank also was preferred by the turf writers, with 41.5 first-place votes compared with 32 for Volponi and 18.5 for Street Cry. The NTRA, however, went for Volponi. He earned 18 first-place votes, more than the 16 for Left Bank and 12 for Street Cry. So, Left Bank carried two of the three blocs while defeating Volponi in individual votes by 79.5-59.