02/16/2007 12:00AM

Female sprinters get own Eclipse

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An Eclipse Award for the top sprinting filly or mare will be awarded for the first time in 2008 to honor the 2007 champion, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and National Turf Writers Association announced on Friday.

The addition of the award will bring to 12 the number of Eclipse Awards bestowed on individual horses. Before the addition, fillies and mares competed with colts for Eclipse honors in the sprint division, despite separations between the sexes in the categories of champion 2-year-old, 3-year-old, older horse, and turf horse.

The new award coincides with the addition of a $1 million sprint race that is restricted to fillies and mares to the Breeders' Cup. The race, called the Filly and Mare Sprint, will be run for the first time this year at Monmouth Park at the distance of six furlongs, though in subsequent years the race will be run at seven furlongs.

Officials for the organizations said that the Eclipse committee also considered new Eclipse Awards in the category of 3-year-old male turf horse and 3-year-old female turf horse. But the committee decided against those two new awards based in part on fears that the establishment of 3-year-old turf categories would give owners incentives to avoid racing against older horses late in the year. In addition, the officials said there aren't enough grass races restricted to 3-year-olds to determine 3-year-old turf champions.

The committee may consider adding those awards in future years, as well as awards in the categories of turf mile and dirt mile.

Eclipse Awards are bestowed based on the results of voting by employees of Daily Racing Form, members of the National Turf Writers Association, and U.S. racing secretaries. Under the system, voters must rank three horses in each division, and the horse with the most first-place votes is awarded the Eclipse.

According to a list of graded stakes maintained by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, at least 40 graded stakes will be run in 2007 that fit the criteria for a filly or mare sprint division, including seven Grade 1 stakes: the Ballerina Stakes, Test Stakes, Humana Distaff Handicap, the La Brea Stakes, and the Santa Monica Stakes, all at seven furlongs, and the Princess Rooney and Prioress Stakes, both at six furlongs.

Although a female horse has not won a sprint Eclipse since 1989, when Safely Kept was voted the top sprinter of the year, four other fillies and mares have been voted the sprint champion since the Eclipse Awards were instituted in 1972: Chou Croute (1972), My Juliet (1976), What a Summer (1977), and Gold Beauty (1982). Three other female horses - Myrtlewood in 1936, Affectionately in 1965, and Ta Wee in both 1970 and 1969 - have been named the champion sprinter.