12/03/2007 1:00AM

Eclipse drama rests with runners-up

EmailNEW YORK - It shouldn't come as a surprise if there is less debate about the Eclipse Awards this year. Unless the mailman who delivers the Eclipse ballots is abducted by aliens, War Pass, Indian Blessing, Curlin, Rags to Riches, Ginger Punch, English Channel, Lahudood, and Midnight Lute are mortal locks to win divisional titles and Maryfield is an odds-on favorite to do the same. The only division where there is any mystery is older male, and if Lawyer Ron doesn't win it, it certainly looks as though Invasor will.

It is years like this when it should be remembered that there is a certain honor just to be one of the three Eclipse Award finalists. In some years, there are some divisions with such an overwhelming standout that there really shouldn't be a second and third finalist. But then you have a situation like the one this year involving Curlin. Curlin is really the only choice to be a divisional champion and Horse of the Year. Yet he comes out of a 3-year-old male division that was uncommonly deep and strong - easily this year's best division. Curlin is an obvious champion, but that doesn't mean a colt like Street Sense should be forgotten.

Perhaps the most stimulating discussion when it comes to this year's Eclipse Awards involves who the other finalists might be. So here goes:

Two-year-old male: This is a toughie because there weren't many compelling performances outside of War Pass. Off his seconds to War Pass in the Champagne and Breeders' Cup, Pyro could be a finalist, but he didn't win a stakes race. Majestic Warrior could be, too, if voters read his Champagne flop as an aberration and go back to his sensational Hopeful win. And if Massive Drama or Colonel John jumps up with a big win in the upcoming CashCall Futurity, they could slip in. What will be interesting is how voters regard Nownownow, who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, a race that is not graded.

Two-year-old female: The two other finalists figure to come from a pool of four consisting of Matron winner Proud Spell, who finished second to Indian Blessing in the Breeders' Cup; Cry and Catch Me, winner of the Oak Leaf; impressive Demoiselle winner Mushka; and Country Star, who is already logical off her win in the Alcibiades but who could enhance her status with a win in the Hollywood Starlet.

Three-year-old male: Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Street Sense is sure to be one of the finalists. The battle for the other spot will be between Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday. Will Hard Spun's win over Street Sense in the Kentucky Cup Classic and second to Curlin in the Breeders' Cup Classic trump the fact that Any Given Saturday drilled him in the Haskell?

Three-year-old filly: Octave's wins in the Mother Goose and CCA Oaks, combined with her close third in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, should give her one of the finalist spots behind Rags to Riches. Lady Joanne and Lear's Princess figure to dispute the last spot. Lady Joanne beat Lear's Princess in the Alabama, but the latter gets extra points for beating Rags to Riches in the Gazelle.

Older male: Corinthian, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and Met Mile, looks like an obvious finalist behind Invasor and Lawyer Ron.

Older female: Off her near miss to Ginger Punch in the Distaff, along with two other big stakes wins, Hystericalady could be a finalist. Nashoba's Key could be, too, although it will be interesting to see how voters assess her three graded stakes wins on synthetic surfaces.

Male turf: By virtue of his Breeders' Cup Mile win, Kip Deville should be a finalist. The fragile Shakespeare should be, too, as he cleanly beat Kip Deville in the Woodbine Mile, but he had only two starts, and neither came in a Breeders' Cup race.

Female turf: There are three logical horses here for two finalist spots - Nashoba's Key, Precious Kitten, and Honey Ryder. Precious Kitten won two iffy Grade 1s, Nashoba's Key won the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon and had a nightmare trip in the Breeders' Cup, while Honey Ryder finished in front of both in the Breeders' Cup but won only a Gradeo2 on the year. Tough call.

Male sprinter: This is one of those situations where it is Midnight Lute and the rest. But Fabulous Strike should get a spot off his brilliant win in the Vosburgh, and Benny the Bull, who was second to Midnight Lute in the Forego, enhanced his chances to be a finalist with his win in the Grade 1 De Francis Dash.

Female sprinter: Yet another division where it looks like three horses for two finalist spots after Maryfield. River's Prayer might be easy to forget since she didn't race after August, but she won all five of her starts, including the Grade 1 Princess Rooney over Maryfield. Dream Rush was a two-time Grade 1 winner sprinting, while Hystericalady's only sprint outing was an overwhelming score in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff.