12/30/2009 1:00AM

Best of the decade: Best non-champs

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Who were the best without a title?

You would think that the nearly 100 horses who won Eclipse Awards as divisional champions over the last 10 years would include all of the decade's top runners, but in fact there were many other outstanding horses who never won a title.

The list includes Barbaro, Birdstone, Congaree, Discreet Cat, Eight Belles, Einstein, Empire Maker, Fusaichi Pegasus, Megahertz, Music Note, Pico Central, Precious Kitten, Red Rocks, Roses in May, and The Tin Man - and that impressive group doesn't even include my top-seven non-champions of the 2000's:

7. Fabulous Strike: He may have been the best pure six-furlong horse in the country the last three years, but a disdain for synthetic surfaces and a few narrow defeats have kept him short of a championship. He has won 12 sprint stakes and lost photos in three other Grade 1's.

6. Lava Man: Current comeback attempt aside, Lava Man was already one of the most durable and accomplished horses of the decade, winning 17 of 47 career starts over seven seasons. His seven Grade 1 wins include three Hollywood Gold Cups, 2005-07.

5. Ventura: In 13 American starts, Ventura had a 7-5-1 slate that included four Grade 1 victories and a four-length romp in the then-ungraded Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. A leading contender for both a female-sprinter and female-turf Eclipse last year and this year, she lost out to Indian Blessing and Forever Together in 2008 and is expected to come up short against Informed Decision and Goldikova this year.

4. Better Talk Now: The ageless gelding, a winner in 14 of 51 career starts, ran in five straight Breeders' Cup Turfs from 2004 through 2008, winning in his first try and missing by half a length to Red Rocks in his third. He won five other Grade 1 races and was near the top of the turf division almost every year.

3. Medaglia d'Oro: He earned $5.7 million with eight wins and seven seconds in 17 career starts - running worse than second only in the 2002 Derby and Preakness. He won a Travers, a Whitney, and a Donn and may have been second in more important races than any horse in recent history: two Breeders' Cup Classics, a Dubai World Cup, a Pacific Classic, Belmont Stakes, and Wood Memorial.

2. Commentator: He is the only horse of the 2000's besides Ghostzapper to have run three Beyer Speed Figures of 120 or more, two of them coming in his victories in the 2005 and 2008 Whitney. The fragile but brilliant front-runner won 14 of 24 starts over six seasons before being retired last August.

1. Pleasantly Perfect: The only other horses to win both the Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup - Cigar, Invasor, and Curlin - were Horse of the Year. So were the only five horses to earn more than his $7.7 million - those three, Fantastic Light, and Skip Away. Yet Pleasantly Perfect never won an Eclipse Award, finishing second among the nation's older horses to Mineshaft in 2003 and to Ghostzapper in 2004.