12/14/2006 1:00AM

Eclipse votes boil down to figuring the best


PHILADELPHIA - There are no instructions with the Eclipse ballot. Everything is subjective. Voters decide what matters.

At the track, it often pays to have differing opinions than the masses. Looking at a race from a different perspective can sometimes put a player in a unique spot.

There are no rewards for being different in the voting. There is also no penalty. Really, who needs conventional wisdom?

I have just about filled out my ballot. Unlike in some years, there really is nothing left to wait on. So, it all comes down to how you look at it.

I simply try to find the best horse in each division without giving any special weight to any particular race just because the race is supposed to mean something.

So, my 2-year-old champion is Tiz Wonderful, unbeaten in three races with Beyer Speed Figures of 99, 97, and a 101 in the Kentucky Jockey Club. I like everything about this horse. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Street Sense was sensational on the day, with a Beyer Figure of 108, but never hit 90 on the Beyer chart in his four other starts. Nobiz Like Shobiz was brilliant in his three starts, with Beyers of 96, 92, and 97 in the Remsen. Those are my three.

Dreaming of Anna is the 2-year-old filly champ in a one-horse race against a very weak bunch.

I went Bernardini, Barbaro, and Discreet Cat in that order for the 3-year-olds. Frankly, any order would have been reasonable. In the end, Bernardini just did it more often. Barbaro's Kentucky Derby win was the performance of the year. Remember how evenly matched that 20-horse field appeared on paper. Remember what happened. Like everybody else, I really wanted to find out how good Barbaro really was. I have no idea how good Discreet Cat is at this point. He would appear to be somewhere between awesome and Secretariat.

The 3-year-old fillies were really weak, so I went with turf star Wait a While, Pine Island, and Bushfire. Wait a While ran consecutive Beyers of 105, 106, 109. Pine Island was never worse than second, but never particularly fast before her death. Bushfire won three Grade 1 races with Beyers of 91, 89, and 89, which is why I look at the performance, not the race.

Invasor obviously has to be older horse. Lava Man was too good not to get something, and he will on my ballot. Premium Tap improved dramatically in the final months of the season.

Fleet Indian dominated the older females all year. Getting hurt in the BC Distaff does not take away from her six wins at five different tracks. Round Pond and Happy Ticket were good, but not as consistently good as Fleet Indian.

The BC Sprint winner Thor's Echo finished with Beyers of 116, 116, and 112. He also had that second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. I liked that the connections went for the title in the De Francis Dash. They deserve it. Bordonaro and Henny Hughes are next. Discreet Cat, as good as he is, raced at less than a mile only once and that was at seven furlongs. That is not the profile of a sprinter.

I got a headache looking the older male grass horses. I finally decided Cacique and English Channel were the same horse and both were boring. So I tossed them. I am voting for Lava Man, who was unreal in his two grass starts. I think if he raced Cacique/English Channel on grass, he would crush them. Because there was no place for Showing Up in the loaded 3-year-old division, I am putting him second on my ballot in this division. Ashkal Way, winner of 6 of 8 with a second and a third, will get a third-place vote.

I am going with Gorella in the female grass division. Yes, she got crushed in the BC, but she was brilliant in her other starts. I love Ouija Board like everybody else. She is the Horse of the World, but one race here is not enough for me. But if she wins, I will certainly understand. Film Maker, again, never ran a poor one. She just happened to be up against some great ones.

I planned all year to vote for Scott Lake as top trainer on the assumption that he would shatter Steve Asmussen's record of 555 winners. Now, he won't get it because of a 30-day suspension for a medication violation. Everybody is going to vote for Todd Pletcher, whose stable has won an insane $26 million and all the graded races except those that people actually watch. He is also looking at a 45-day suspension.

So, do you look at these two like baseball Hall of Fame voters are looking at Mark McGwire? Or do you say they start more horses than anybody so it's not a shock that they get some positives?

My colleague Andrew Beyer made a very good case for Michael Matz. His stable won $5 million with just 246 starts. And he won the races where everybody was watching.

I am still thinking about this one.

Edgar Prado, who won his first Derby, is my top jockey. Julien Leparoux is a lock for top apprentice.

I am still thinking about owner.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable won $4.3 million from just 105 starts. Barbaro and Showing Up were major stars. How the Jacksons dealt with everything after the Preakness in such a classy way probably should not matter, but it might. The voters make that decision.

How about Lake's owner Robert Cole? He has 170 winners from 413 starters in the very competitive claiming game. He has no chance, but maybe he should.

Horse of the Year goes to Invasor. He really is the best. At least, he was when the BC Classic was on the line. Bernardi and Barbaro will be next in that category for me.

Now, if there were a separate category for Story of the Year that would be Barbaro in a walkover.