01/04/2008 1:00AM

Curlin, Pletcher prominent finalists

Brandon Benson/NYRA
Curlin won the Arkansas Derby, Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic.

Led by Curlin, the overwhelming favorite for Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male, and five horses from the barn of trainer Todd Pletcher, including a trio of 3-year-old fillies, finalists for the 2007 Eclipse Awards were announced on Friday by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

There are three finalists in each of the 16 divisions, 11 for horses and five for people. The winners of the awards - voted on by the NTRA, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers Association - will be announced on Jan. 21 at the 37th annual Eclipse Awards dinner, a black-tie affair held at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. There were 300 ballots sent out this year, and 267 were returned, according to Jim Gluckson, a spokesman for the NTRA.

Curlin won the Arkansas Derby, Preakness, and Jockey Club Gold Cup, then seemingly clinched two Eclipse Awards with his victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The other finalists for champion 3-year-old male are Street Sense, the Kentucky Derby and Travers winner, and Hard Spun, who was second in both the Derby and the BC Classic and won the King's Bishop.

Finalists for Horse of the Year are not announced before the dinner, so as to not tip off potential divisional winners, though this year most divisional winners are considered fairly obvious.

Pletcher, who set a single-season record for purse earnings of $28,571,697, trained all three finalists for champion 3-year-old filly, including the overwhelming favorite, Belmont winner Rags to Riches. The other finalists for champion 3-year-old filly are Octave, who won the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks, and Spinster winner Panty Raid.

"I'm excited to see all three fillies from our barn," Pletcher said Friday from Florida. "I think Octave or Panty Raid, in any normal 3-year-old filly year, they'd have had a chance to win. It obviously would be a great surprise if it was anyone other than Rags to Riches. It's a great accomplishment for our barn, a great honor."

The 3-year-old filly award could be one of three Eclipses won by Pletcher trainees. Both BC Turf winner English Channel, a finalist for champion male turf horse, and Lawyer Ron, a finalist for champion older horse, are also favored to win.

English Channel's rivals for the male turf title are After Market, whose biggest wins came in the Whittingham and Eddie Read, and BC Mile winner Kip Deville.

Lawyer Ron, who won the Whitney and Woodward, is a finalist along with Corinthian, who won the Met Mile and the inaugural BC Dirt Mile, and Invasor, the 2006 Horse of the Year who won his only two starts in 2007, most notably the Dubai World Cup.

Pletcher himself is a finalist as champion trainer, a title he has won the three previous years. He is up against Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Curlin, and Kiaran McLaughlin, the trainer of Invasor.

"Obviously it's an award that would be coveted by any trainer," Pletcher said. "It's a great accomplishment for our whole team. Steve and Kiaran both had phenomenal years. Either of them would be a worthy winner."

The best chance for a McLaughlin horse to win an Eclipse Award likely lies with Lahudood, the winner of the BC Filly and Mare Turf. She is up against Nashoba's Key, the winner of the Yellow Ribbon, and Precious Kitten, who won the Mabee and the Matriarch, for champion female turf horse.

Nashoba's Key, who won 7 of 8 starts last year on both turf and synthetic surfaces, is the only horse who is a finalist in two divisions. She is up for champion older filly or mare against Ginger Punch and Hystericalady, the one-two finishers in the BC Distaff. Ginger Punch is favored.

Asmussen trains two of the finalists for champion male 2-year-old, Kodiak Kowboy and Pyro, but they are expected to lose to War Pass, who beat both Asmussen colts in the BC Juvenile.

Indian Blessing, who won the BC Juvenile Fillies, is favored to be named champion 2-year-old filly against Country Star, the Hollywood Starlet winner, and Proud Spell, the BC Juvenile Fillies runner-up.

Two other Breeders' Cup winners - Midnight Lute and Maryfield - are likely to win sprint titles.

Midnight Lute, who won the BC Sprint, is a finalist for champion male sprinter along with Vosburgh winner Fabulous Strike and Idiot Proof, the BC Sprint runner-up.

Maryfield, who captured the inaugural BC Filly and Mare Sprint, is a finalist for champion female sprinter along with Dream Rush, who won the Test and Prioress, and River's Prayer, who won all five of her starts in 2007, including her lone meeting with Maryfield in the Princess Rooney.

The finalists for champion steeplechaser are Good Night Shirt, a three-time Grade 1 winner in 2007; McDynamo, whose lone win in 2007 was a dramatic fifth straight in the BC Steeplechase; and, surprisingly, Planets Aligned, whose only stakes wins were in races restricted to first-year novices. Overlooked as a finalist was Mixed Up, who won two significant open races in 2007, including the Royal Chase Hurdle.

The finalists for champion trainer were the top three money winners during the year - with voters overlooking people like Carl Nafzger, Street Sense's trainer. Voters displayed similar tendencies in the other categories for humans.

Garrett Gomez, who won two Breeders' Cup races, is the favorite to be named champion jockey over Robby Albarado and John Velazquez. They were the top three, respectively, in purse earnings in 2007. Left out was Calvin Borel, the rider of Street Sense.

Frank Stronach, who bred and raced Ginger Punch, is a finalist for both champion owner and breeder.

Stronach is a finalist for champion owner along with Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's Shadwell Stables, which raced Invasor and Lahudood, and Maggi Moss, the nation's second winningest owner in 2007. Stronach and Shadwell finished one-two in purse earnings last year. Among those overlooked were the Rags to Riches team of Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, and the partnership that owned Curlin.

Stronach's Adena Springs, the nation's leader in earnings among breeders, is a finalist for champion breeder along with William Farish, who was second in earnings, and Marty and Pam Wygod, who bred Eclipse finalists After Market, Idiot Proof, and Octave. Overlooked was Fares Farms, the breeder of Curlin, and Jim Tafel, who bred and owns Street Sense.

The finalists for champion apprentice jockey are Tyler Pizarro, Alonso Quinonez, and the favorite, Joe Talamo, who won more money and more races than any first-year rider in 2007.

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