10/09/2002 11:00PM

Esteemed Friend an oldie but goodie

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - The New England Turf Writers announced its regional champions, with lifelong achievement the theme for the major human and equine award winners.

Bob O'Malley, CEO of Suffolk Downs, will receive the Sam McCracken Award for lifelong contributions to New England racing. Former jockey Chris McCarron will be honored with the Lou Smith Award as the man of the year after announcing his retirement earlier this year.

Eight-year-old Esteemed Friend was the year's best older horse and sprinter, and is a front-runner for the James B. Moseley horse of the year award, which will be announced at the annual banquet Nov. 25.

O'Malley's 30-plus years associated with Suffolk Downs included the tumultuous time in the early-1990's when the track was closed for two years. He worked his way up from parking attendant as a young man through the dark years to the current revival, spurred in large part by legislation he helped craft.

McCarron never rode regularly in New England, but as a native of Boston was always considered the region's racing ambassador during his Hall of Fame career.

In the 23-year history of the awards, Esteemed Friend is one of the oldest horses to be honored. Since he was claimed for $35,000 by owner Anthony Pyliotis, Esteemed Friend has flourished, winning two stakes and finishing third in the Grade 2 Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont in his most recent race.

"I'm happy for the horse," said Pyliotis. "I'm proud of him and I only wish I could race him in New England more so the people could see how good he is. I want all my horses to race here. I love watching all my horses here and this is one of the best tracks around."

Esteemed Friend beat out Tom Maior for the top older horse award, but Tom Maior was named male turf champion. Gold I.D. was voted top 3-year-old colt after winning the Matt Scudder Stakes at The Meadowlands on Sept. 27.

African Princess, a Massachusetts-bred who won stakes in open company, won the 3-year-old filly award. Jini's Jet won the Cliff Sundberg award as champion New England-bred.

Tip the Scale rode a four-race late-summer win streak to the top older female award. Sword Princess out-polled two other competitors to win the older female turf award.

Max a Million is the top juvenile colt, but the top juvenile filly will be named after the Mom's Command Stakes is run Oct. 19.

Joe Hampshire was named the Eli Chiat Outstanding Jockey award-winner for the third time. Ron Dandy will collect his fifth Gerry Sullivan Outstanding Trainer trophy.

Michael Blowen, a former Boston Globe reporter now with the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund, will get a special achievement award for his work to find homes for several horses at the conclusion of the Northampton Fair. Joseph and Mary Grant, the Quincy, Mass.-based owners of graded stakes winner Evening Attire, will also receive an award.

Tejano Couture, who leads the nation in wins with 11, three more than his closest pursuer, will also receive a special achievement award, as will Kimster, winner of the Kenneth Graf Stakes, and four-time stakes winner Stylish Sultan.