11/14/2003 1:00AM

Eclipse Award voting changed

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NEW YORK - The Eclipse Award voting is being changed this year, eliminating the three-bloc voting system and changing the way award finalists are determined.

The changes were approved by the Eclipse Awards steering committee during a conference call on Monday. Members of the steering committee include representatives from the Daily Racing Form, the National Thoroughbred Racing Associations, and the National Turf Writers Association.

Under the new rules, the three-bloc voting system will be replaced by a one-vote, one-person system, in which each voter's selection will carry equal weight. Voters will be asked to rank their top three selections in each of the 16 voting categories, with points awarded on a 10-5-1 basis. Previously voters made only one selection per category.

The three-bloc system had been criticized as unfair. Under the system, voters were divided into three blocs: voting members of DRF; a panel of racing secretaries and chart callers; and members of the NTWA. Eclipse candidates had to carry two of three blocs to win the award.

The three blocs had unequal numbers of voters. Last year, DRF had 53 voters, the racing secretaries and chart callers 80, and the NTWA 161. Thus it was possible for an Eclipse candidate to lose the popular vote yet win the Eclipse, and vice versa.

DRF initially objected to the elimination of the bloc system, according to Steven Crist, DRF publisher and chairman and a member of the steering committee. Crist said that the bloc system had "some good checks and balances," but that DRF agreed to the change after all, because of support for the change by representatives of the other two blocs.

The voting point system will be used to determine the three finalists in each category, but winners will continue to be determined by the number of first-place votes. Under the previous system, the top three point-getters were named finalists, regardless of the number of ballots on which each candidate appeared. The system raised concern that voters could select an unworthy horse as their first-place vote in order to help the candidate to be named a finalist.

For example, in 2002, Awesome Humor and Storm Flag Flying were both named finalists for the Eclipse Award for Juvenile Fillies, even though Storm Flag Flying was the overwhelming choice and despite the fact that many voters believed that Composure was the second-best 2-year-old filly in 2002. But Composure received no votes, and Awesome Humor became a finalist because one or more voters listed her as the champion.