01/04/2010 12:00AM

An election like no other

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Tom Keyser
She Be Wild wins the BC Juvenile Fillies, defeating Blind Luck and locking up at least one Eclipse vote.

NEW YORK - There is a good reason why it seems like almost every single person with an Eclipse Award vote has felt so compelled to express in public what they did this time with their ballot. It is because this particular Eclipse Award exercise was the most intriguing in recent memory. So in the hopes that you can stand the ruminations of one more Eclipse Award voter, what follows is how yours truly came down on the matter.

Of course, the main thing that distinguishes this round of Eclipse Awards from all that preceded it is the unprecedented battle for Horse of the Year between two females who were undefeated in 2009: Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. This debate began the moment Zenyatta flashed under the wire first in the Breeders' Cup Classic almost two months ago, and no matter who winds up winning Horse of the Year honors, it will rage on for years to come.

When the debate does continue, here's hoping the tenor of the discussion isn't as disappointing as it has been at times leading up to this point. The way a vote for Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year has in some cases been painted to be a prime example of "East Coast bias," or a statement against synthetic-track racing is as discouraging as the way a vote for Zenyatta has been cast as simple-minded and stubborn for the weight it bestows on a solitary race named the Breeders' Cup Classic. There are probably a few exceptions, but it is just simply wrong to take every Horse of the Year vote for Rachel Alexandra as a case of bias against California racing, the same way it is wrong to take a vote for Zenyatta as shilling for the Breeders' Cup.

Before taking a brief hiatus, I used this space to state how torn I was about this Horse of the Year quandary. I admitted that, going into the Breeders' Cup, I didn't think anything could happen that would unseat Rachel Alexandra from her role as leader for Horse of the Year honors. But Zenyatta's victory over males in the Classic proved that Rachel Alexandra didn't have anything locked up.

In the end, I wound up voting for Rachel Alexandra for Horse of the Year for two reasons. First, while Rachel Alexandra certainly did not beat anywhere near as strong a field in 2009 as Zenyatta did in the Classic, I firmly believe that the weight of Rachel Alexandra's combined wins over males in 2009 in the Preakness, the Haskell (in which she trounced surefire 3-year-old male champion Summer Bird by six lengths), and the Woodward surpasses Zenyatta's one win over males, even if that win was in the Breeders' Cup's biggest race.

The other reason why I went for Rachel Alexandra has to do with my feelings about the Breeders' Cup. I love the Breeders' Cup and think it is a fantastic event. But just because the Breeders' Cup markets itself as "World Thoroughbred Championships," that doesn't make it so. While I believe that a victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic can make a horse Horse of the Year, I do not believe - and there is a big difference here - that a victory in the Classic automatically makes a horse Horse of the Year. This is evidenced by this fact: In the 25 Breeders' Cup Classics before Zenyatta's, 14 winners did not go on to be voted Horse of the Year the same season.

Like many other voters, I encountered several absolute slam-dunk Eclipse Award categories. If Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra aren't unanimous selections for older female and 3-year-old female, respectively, there should be an investigation. Summer Bird (3-year-old male), Lookin at Lucky (2-year-old male), Informed Decision (female sprinter), and Mixed Up (steeplechase) were no-brainers. So, too, for me, was Goldikova (female turf), who showed more brilliance winning the Breeders' Cup Mile for the second straight year than was seen at any other point in an otherwise leaderless division.

A little less easy, but by no means difficult, was She Be Wild in the 2-year-old female division over Hot Dixie Chick and Blind Luck, and Kodiak Kowboy over Zensational for male sprinter.

Although Hot Dixie Chick might be the most talented of the three, I couldn't vote for her in a division that demands success at a middle distance, what with her not having raced beyond seven furlongs. And while Blind Luck has one more Grade 1 win than She Be Wild, She Be Wild beat her on the square the one time they met, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

As for Kodiak Kowboy, the horses he beat in his three one-turn Grade 1 wins in 2009 were light years better than the horses Zensational beat in his three Grade 1 sprint scores.

One spot where I know I broke away from the pack was turf male. Gio Ponti is the very likely winner of this Eclipse Award off his four Grade 1 wins. But the horses who finished right behind Gio Ponti in three of those four victories (Marsh Side, an ancient Better Talk Now, Musketier, Quijano, Just as Well, Stotsfold) don't do a thing for me. In my heart, I believe Conduit, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf for a second straight year, is the superior horse, and I went with him.

I have nothing against Gio Ponti, but I also went against him in the remaining equine division, older male. To me, this division is about main-track accomplishment, especially since there is also an Eclipse Award for male turf horses. Gio Ponti, off his second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic, will get lots of votes in this division, too. But Gio Ponti never actually won a race on a main track in all of 2009. I think it would set a terrible precedent to give an Eclipse Award to a horse off a loss, especially with that horse not having won a race of any sort on the division's intended surface. So, I went with Rail Trip, whose emphatic win in the Hollywood Gold Cup was in my estimation the best winning performance in this division.