01/27/2009 12:00AM

Curlin again named best in racing

Barbara D. Livingston
Curlin's biggest victories were in the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster Handicap, Woodward Stakes (above), and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Eclipse Award voters on Monday rewarded the ambitious 2008 campaign of Curlin by bestowing him with his second straight Horse of the Year title, enabling Curlin to become the first horse to win Horse of the Year in consecutive years since Cigar in 1995-96.

Curlin also was named champion older male, and his trainer, Steve Asmussen, also won the Eclipse Award as champion trainer, his first, after sending out a single-season record 622 winners in 2008.

Curlin beat out the unbeaten Zenyatta - who was named champion older female - for Horse of the Year by 153 votes to 69, with Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, the champion 3-year-old male, a distant third with 13 votes. Others receiving first-place votes were Raven's Pass (2), Einstein (1), Goldikova (1), and Peppers Pride (1). Two of the 242 voters abstained.

The winners of all divisional awards were announced Monday night at the 38th annual black-tie Eclipse Awards dinner at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel. They were determined by the collective votes of the three sponsoring organizations - Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers Association, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose bloc includes racing secretaries at tracks across the country as well as members of Equibase. A total of 242 ballots were cast from 282 eligible voters.

While many of the categories were foregone conclusions, there was great drama surrounding several of the divisions because there was no standout favorite.

No category turned out closer than champion owner. In an apparent nod to quantity over quality, Frank Stronach, whose far-flung Stronach Stables led the nation in purse earnings until the final week of the year, outpolled IEAH Stables by just one vote, 47-46. IEAH led the nation with 11 Grade 1 wins in 2008, and was represented by two Eclipse Award winners, Big Brown and Benny the Bull (sprinter), while Stronach did not have any equine champions.

The turf writers voted for IEAH by 22-21. Daily Racing Form voters favored IEAH by 20-9. But the NTRA bloc went for Stronach by 17-4, giving the Magna Entertainment track owner the title.

First-place votes were spread among 16 entities for champion owner, hence the relatively low vote total for the top two. The partnership that owned Curlin - Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stable and Midnight Cry Stable - finished third with 29 votes, while Jerry and Ann Moss, owners of Zenyatta, were fourth with 27.

Stronach's Adena Springs operation was named champion breeder, a category in which he was favored. He received 139 votes to 60 for second-place Stonerside Stable, which was sold last year by Robert and Janice McNair to Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable. That made Stronach the only individual to win two Eclipse Awards on Monday.

Another mild surprise was recorded for female sprinter, where Indian Blessing beat out Ventura, even though Ventura defeated Indian Blessing in their lone meeting in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. Indian Blessing got a boost from a late-season win in the La Brea Stakes, her third Grade 1 win of the year. Indian Blessing got 138 votes to 88 for Ventura. The Eclipse Award was the second for Indian Blessing, who was the champion 2-year-old filly of 2007.

Benny the Bull's four wins the first half of the year proved more substantial than the lone, powerful victory by Midnight Lute in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, with voters preferring Benny the Bull over Midnight Lute by 107 votes to 86 for champion sprinter.

Proud Spell, the Kentucky Oaks winner, was named champion 3-year-old filly over Eight Belles, her ill-fated Larry Jones-trained stablemate, by 90 votes to 71.

Other divisional winners were Midshipman (2-year-old male), Stardom Bound (2-year-old filly), Conduit (male turf horse), Forever Together (female turf horse), Good Night Shirt (steeplechase horse), Garrett Gomez (jockey), and Paco Lopez (apprentice jockey).

Curlin won 5 times in 7 starts in 2008, his lone losses coming in his only starts on turf and a synthetic surface. His biggest victories were in the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster Handicap, Woodward Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, a race he won in 2007 to clinch that year's Horse of the Year title.

Curlin received 239 of the 242 votes for champion older horse, with Albertus Maximus, Commentator, and Go Between getting 1 vote each.

There was a similar runaway for champion older female, in which Zenyatta received 240 votes. The decision was expected to be unanimous, but there were 2 votes for Ginger Punch, even though Zenyatta crushed Ginger Punch in their only two meetings, including the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic.

Conduit, Forever Together, Midshipman, and Stardom Bound propelled themselves to year-end championships with victories in the Breeders' Cup.

Conduit's lone start in this country was in the Breeders' Cup Turf, but that victory gave him enough momentum to win his division's championship. He received a whopping 175 votes, easily defeating second-place Einstein, who got 31 votes.

Forever Together, who won the BC Filly and Mare Turf, outpolled Goldikova, who beat males in the BC Mile in her lone start in this country, by 137-94 to capture the Eclipse Award. Ventura, second to Indian Blessing for champion female sprinter, was fourth in this division with 3 votes.

Midshipman, who won the BC Juvenile, received 195 votes to just 32 for second-place Vineyard Haven, the Champagne Stakes winner, to win his division's championship.

Stardom Bound, the BC Juvenile Fillies winner, came 6 votes shy of a unanimous decision as champion 2-year-old filly, garnering 236 first-place votes.

Good Night Shirt, who captured his second straight Eclipse Award, was another runaway winner. He received 217 of the 219 votes cast for champion steeplechase horse. There were 23 abstentions.

Big Brown, who won two-thirds of the Triple Crown, was an easy winner in his division, receiving 219 votes. Raven's Pass, the BC Classic winner, was second with 21.

Asmussen received 187 votes for champion trainer, easily outpolling Bobby Frankel, who finished second with 15. The only trainers who had two Eclipse winners, Bob Baffert (Indian Blessing and Midshipman), and Rick Dutrow Jr. (Benny the Bull and Big Brown), finished fourth and fifth, respectively, behind third-place Larry Jones.

Gomez, who led the nation's jockeys in purse earnings, also won in a rout, receiving 210 votes to 11 for second-place Rafael Bejarano.

Lopez, who won more races than any other first-year jockey, received 150 votes to 34 for second-place Inez Karlsson.

Also receiving Eclipse Awards on Monday night were Alice Chandler (Award of Merit), and the On Call Program of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (Special Award). Media winners, previously announced, also received their awards.

The evening began with a dedication to Joe Hirsch, the late executive columnist of Daily Racing Form, who died on Jan. 9.

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