12/04/2006 12:00AM

Championship day didn't solidify all titles


NEW YORK - It seems counterintuitive - either that, or I am guilty of overanalyzing it - but it does appear that the Eclipse Award outlook in a few divisions is more clouded now four weeks after the Breeders' Cup than it was when the sun set on Breeders' Cup Day.

Oh, some of the horses who seemed like slam-dunks for championships immediately after the Breeders' Cup still are. Dreaming of Anna, who capped a perfect season with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, remains a lead-pipe cinch to be champion 2-year-old filly. Ouija Board, an overwhelming winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, is the same in the turf female division. And by virtue of his score in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Invasor is a mortal lock to be champion older horse, as well as Horse of the Year.

One horse who has greatly enhanced his prospects for an Eclipse Award since the Breeders' Cup is Thor's Echo in the sprint division. Although I presented a case in this space last week for Cigar Mile winner Discreet Cat to be seriously considered for this divisional title even if his profile doesn't fit the traditional mold of a sprinter, I certainly recognize that Thor's Echo will probably garner the most votes after he followed up his upset of the Breeders' Cup Sprint with a victory in the De Francis Dash.

A couple of horses who were highly probable to win Eclipse Awards by the time night fell on Breeders' Cup Day are Street Sense for champion 2-year-old male and Bernardini for top 3-year-old male. Both remain very likely to win divisional titles, although there does seem to be increased chatter concerning possible alternatives. In the matter of Street Sense, there is the lingering sense that his lengthy score in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was owed in no small part to his riding the crest of the rail bias that prevailed at Churchill Downs on Breeders' Cup Day. That, taken in combination with Nobiz Like Shobiz's most impressive victory in the Remsen Stakes, causes the feeling that Nobiz Like Shobiz is going to attract some Eclipse Award votes. But Nobiz Like Shobiz probably won't get enough votes to mount a serious challenge to Street Sense, partly because there is a mentality among some Eclipse Award voters to punish horses who skip the Breeders' Cup, as Nobiz Like Shobiz did.

As for Bernardini, I personally can't conceive of him not winning his divisional championship, even if he was upset by Invasor in the Classic. But it would be wrong to ignore the fact that Bernardini's loss in the Classic, perhaps coupled with a pinch of negative backlash over his retirement, which many regard as premature, has suddenly given new life to Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's once-dormant title hopes.

Then, there are a couple of divisions that appear to be increasingly open to debate, or at least should be, although there will be those who might disagree. And both involve the two females who were unable to finish the Breeders' Cup Distaff because of serious injury, Fleet Indian and the late Pine Island. Fleet Indian and Pine Island were respective pro-tem leaders of the older female and 3-year-old filly divisions going into the Breeders' Cup, and there is a general feeling against penalizing them for being physically unable to finish a race even as important as the Distaff. But it is important to remember that even though Fleet Indian had won all of her races this year going into the Breeders' Cup, she still had plenty of doubters. More than a few maintain that Fleet Indian benefited from easy trips against soft competition in a lot of her wins. And now, a few, myself included, are starting to think outside the box and consider Ouija Board as an alternative. Yes, Ouija Board's one start in North America came on the turf in the Breeders' Cup, but the rebut is, regardless of surface, did anyone see a better older female compete in the United States this year?

In the case of Pine Island, once the shock of her death wore off, people started to scrutinize her record. And once they did, it became fair to question whether carbon-copy wins in the Alabama and Gazelle, in which Pine Island ran down Teammate both times, are enough even in a subpar year for 3-year-old fillies. There is now momentum for the candidacy of Wait a While, who was a graded stakes winner on both coasts, and who was the only prominent 3-year-old filly to win a major race over older opponents (the Yellow Ribbon), albeit on turf. But while Wait a While made her mark with two Grade 1 wins on turf, she was also versatile enough to win a Grade 2 stakes on dirt and be Grade 1 stakes-placed twice on that surface. That versatility will get her votes.

That leaves the remaining equine Eclipse Award division, Turf Male, which was inscrutable at the conclusion of Breeders' Cup Day thanks to results in the pertinent races that served to confuse rather than settle the issue, and remains inscrutable to this day. With perhaps as many as seven candidates, the Eclipse Award voting in this division has the potential to be the wildest of any division in recent years, and as such, this topic merits a discussion of its own in a future column.