01/27/2004 1:00AM

Bird Town beats Six Perfections by two votes


HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Just as the Kentucky Derby may have been the deciding factor toward getting Funny Cide his Eclipse Award, so too was the Kentucky Oaks in determining the 3-year-old filly champion of 2003. In a year in which no filly dominated the division, Oaks winner Bird Town scored a narrow victory over Six Perfections to win the Eclipse Award.

Comparing to Six Perfections was an impossible task. Bird Town raced exclusively in the United States all year on dirt, and won three races, including the Acorn Stakes. But she raced just once outside of her division, and never beat older rivals. Six Perfections raced just once in the United States, in the Breeders' Cup Mile on turf, in which she beat all comers - male or female, young or old.

Eclipse voters gave it to Bird Town by 96-94 in the closest result of the year.

Marylou Whitney, who bred and owns Bird Town, accepted the award Monday night from football great Paul Hornung. She was accompanied by her husband, John Hendrickson, and trainer Nick Zito, who walked toward the podium pumping his fist above his head.

"Every time this filly ran I thought about my mom," Zito said later of his late mother, Carmela, who died in December 2000, "so I knew this filly must be special."

Bird Town is by Cape Town out of the Storm Bird mare Dear Bertie. It was a mating Whitney arranged with William T. Young, who died earlier this month.

"I want to thank someone who was kind of a mentor, W.T. Young," Whitney said. "It was his stallion Cape Town that we bred to our wonderful Dear Bertie."

Bird Town finished first or second in seven of her eight starts in 2003. She began the year with a narrow loss to Yell in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park, then was a runaway winner of the Charon Stakes. She prepped for the Kentucky Oaks by finishing second in Keeneland's Beaumont Stakes.

The Oaks performance was dazzling. Bird Town stumbled badly at the start and was forced to rally wide on the final turn, yet closed stoutly under jockey Edgar Prado to win going away by 3 1/4 lengths.

"It meant a lot because of who we won it for, and when you win one in front of 100,000 people, they're special," Zito said.

Five weeks later, Bird Town won a thrilling renewal of the one-mile Acorn, beating Lady Tak by a head.

That was her last victory. Bird Town finished second behind Lady Tak in the Test Stakes, was a dull fifth in the Alabama Stakes, and then closed her career with a sharp second-place finish behind the older filly Sightseek in the Beldame Stakes.

"That might have been her best race," Zito said. "Sightseek was on another planet that day."

Bird Town was retired at year's end, and is scheduled to be bred this spring to Empire Maker.