01/02/2009 12:00AM

Eclipse ballot down to wire


NEW YORK - The Eclipse ballots are due at 2 p.m. Monday, and with instant online voting available this year, it just might take me until 1:45 p.m. to be absolutely sure about a couple of these, like the male sprinter and turf horse categories. Barring any last-second changes of heart, here are the buttons I'm planning to push:

2-year-old male: 1. Midshipman 2. Vineyard Haven 3. Old Fashioned

The BC Juvenile/Del Mar Futurity double edges the Champagne/Hopeful double in this battle of the dual Grade 1 winners. Old Fashioned might be better than both of them, but you have to win more than the Remsen to be the champ.

2-year-old filly: 1. Stardom Bound 2. Dream Empress 3. Sky Diva

Stardom Bound was in a class by herself, and may well be every bit as good as the top two juvenile colts.

3-year-old male: 1. Big Brown 2. Raven's Pass 3. Henrythenavigator

We'll never know just how good Big Brown really was, but he was a whole lot better than the rest of the Stateside 3-year-olds.

3-year-old filly: 1. Proud Spell 2. Music Note 3. Eight Belles

A squeaker between the top two, decided by the nose that separated them at the end of the Alabama and by Proud Spell's winning outside of the Empire State.

Older male: 1. Curlin 2. Commentator 3. Einstein

Curlin completely dominated the division. Commentator needs everything to go his way, but when it does he's the fastest racehorse around.

Older female: 1. Zenyatta 2. Ginger Punch 3. Cocoa Beach

Zenyatta was unbeaten in seven starts, including two trouncings of last year's champ, Ginger Punch.

Turf male: 1. Conduit 2. Grand Couturier 3. Red Giant

A horse should be something really special to get an Eclipse for a single American start, and while Conduit clearly isn't a worldbeater, none of the Americans was consistent or accomplished enough to deny him.

Turf female: 1. Forever Together 2. Mauralakana 3. Goldikova

Three Grade 1 victories, including the BC Filly and Mare Turf, made Forever Together the clear choice on achievement. Goldikova's BC Mile was eye-catching, but one flashy win against a moderate field was not enough for a title.

Male sprinter: 1. Benny the Bull 2. Midnight Lute 3. Street Boss

A very tough choice. Midnight Lute was magnificent returning to top form in the BC Sprint, but one victory in two starts is a pretty thin campaign for a championship.

Female sprinter: 1. Indian Blessing 2. Intangaroo 3. Ventura

That's not the way they finished in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint, but Indian Blessing won six graded stakes on dirt, the province of sprinters and a surface Ventura never tried.

Steeplechaser: 1. Good Night Shirt 2. Sovereign Duty 3. Dark Equation

The 7-year-old won five top-rated jump races; no one else won more than one.

Jockey:1. Garrett Gomez 2. Rafael Bejarano 3. Julien Leparoux

Bejarano won 52 more races and the Grade 1 title by a 9-8 tally, but Gomez's $6.9 million edge in earnings tipped the scale.

Owner: 1. IEAH Stables 2. Stonestreet Stables 3. Augustin Stable

It's not a popularity contest; IEAH won 11 Grade 1 races with eight different horses, an extraordinary achievement.

Trainer:1. Steve Asmussen 2. Bobby Frankel 3. Rick Dutrow

Asmussen won the most races, the most money, and campaigned the reigning Horse of the Year to an earnings record and probably a second title. Game, set, match.

Breeder: 1. Adena Springs 2. Juddmonte 3. Stonerside

The Stronach breeding operation continues to shine in both quantity and quality.

Apprentice: 1. Paco Lopez 2. Abel Mariano 3. Inez Karlsson

Lopez needs to smooth out his aggressive style but has towering raw ability and a bright future.

Horse of the Year: 1. Curlin 2. Big Brown 3. Zenyatta

Curlin was unbeaten in five starts on dirt, four of them Group 1 or Grade 1 races, and became the richest American-based horse ever. That trumps two-thirds of a Triple Crown and an undefeated campaign against fillies.