12/26/2008 1:00AM

Europeans complicate 2008 Eclipse ballot


PHILADELPHIA - After trying to answer the most obvious question and failing, I waded through my Eclipse ballot, punched in my votes and sent them into cyberspace. What I never got solved was why the past performances of Peppers Pride were not listed in the older filly and mare category.

I guess it had something to do with graded stakes wins. Seriously, Zenyatta will win the Eclipse in the category in a walkover. But Zenyatta is just 9 for 9. Peppers Pride is 19 for 19.

So, sometime in 2009, if Peppers Pride isn't retired and bred, I am proposing a match race on neutral grounds, somewhere between Southern California and New Mexico. Turf Paradise in Phoenix is the perfect locale. I am thinking six furlongs.

Just think. Peppers Pride vs. Zenyatta. I can hear the purists shrieking. Pepper would have no chance. Probably true, but it would be fun.

Meanwhile, the most confusing part of the voting for me was trying to evaluate Europeans that raced here once and won Breeders' Cup races. That and Midnight Lute made for several difficult votes.

Raven's Pass was terrific in the BC Classic, but no way that eclipses Big Brown's winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Florida Derby, and Haskell. The vote for 3-year-old champ was easy for me, perhaps not so much for others.

I did not see a dominant American grass horse. Grand Couturier and Einstein probably accomplished the most, but neither looked like a champion to me. So I went with BC Turf winner Conduit. I wish the colt had been a bit more dominant in England, but that St. Leger/BC Turf double is hard to ignore. So was the fact that Grand Couturier was 17 1/2 lengths back in the BC Turf.

The American female grass horses were a nice, if uninspiring, bunch. I thought Mauralakana was the most accomplished of the Americans, but she basically kept beating or getting by the same group of horses.

Goldikova was quite inspiring in the BC Mile. I thought Kip Deville ran one of his greatest races that day, and Goldikova ran away from him like he was in slow motion. That was enough for me. Which begs the obvious question. Just how good was Arc winner Zarkava, who drilled Goldikova twice? I considered voting for Zarkava even though she never raced in America.

Midnight Lute was awesome in the BC Sprint. I voted him third in the Sprint category. I just could not vote for a horse to be a champion off one win all year.

Street Boss got my vote. The colt ran 9 times, with 6 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third. He won two Grade 1 stakes, a Grade 2, and was a solid third in the BC Sprint from the tough rail post.

I am not confident I am making the right vote, as a reasonable argument for Midnight Lute certainly could be made.

Midshipman is almost certainly going to win the 2-year-old colt division. I couldn't vote for the colt, with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 91.

Old Fashioned ran faster when he won an allowance race at Delaware Park a week after the Breeders' Cup, with a 96 Beyer. The colt's win in the Remsen was eye-catching, so was the 100 Beyer.

And there is this to consider. Horses that started their careers at Delaware Park have 1 win, 2 seconds, and 1 third in the Derby from 2005 to 2008. They would be Barbaro, Hard Spun, Eight Belles, and Afleet Alex.

Horse of the Year, I went with Curlin, Big Brown, and Zenyatta in that order. Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup trumps Big Brown's big four, but not by a ton. Really, it came down to numbers for me. Curlin was just a bit faster than Big Brown, so that was the tiebreaker.

Zenyatta's best 2008 numbers were just a bit behind Curlin's and a bit ahead of Big Brown's. The great filly won four Grade 1 stakes and three Grade 2 stakes, something none of her competitors did. Still, it is hard to compare the difficulty of those races with races like the Derby.

Having said all that, I am not sure if the 2008 versions of Curlin, Big Brown, and Zenyatta were all in a starting gate together, with a half-dozen or more accomplished horses with various running styles, that I would not like Zenyatta. She is that good.

Imaginary races, however, are not what we are being asked to vote for. We are supposed to look at what went down in 2008 and try to compare.

The good news is that, even with Curlin and Big Brown retired, Zenyatta is coming back. There may be a 2009 Horse of the Year title with her name on, assuming, of course, she can beat Peppers Pride, if it comes to that.