01/24/2009 1:00AM

Focus on Curlin at Eclipse Awards


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Curlin will attempt to become the first horse in a dozen years to repeat as Horse of the Year on Monday night at the 38th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.

Should Curlin add the 2008 crown to the title he won in 2007, he would be the first horse to twice be named Horse of the Year since Cigar, who won consecutive gold statues in 1995-96.

The campaign both horses had after their initial Horse of the Year titles are strikingly similar. Like Cigar, Curlin went halfway around the world and won the Dubai World Cup, returned to the United States and won several important stakes, but failed to capture the Breeders' Cup Classic for a second time after winning it the previous year.

It would be highly symbolic for Curlin to be named Horse of the Year at an event in south Florida, since his career began nearly two years ago with a dazzling debut win at Gulfstream Park.

Curlin is a cinch to be named champion older horse on Monday night and is favored to be named Horse of the Year, but there is strong sentiment for Zenyatta, who remained perfect with her victory in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. She is the overwhelming favorite to be named champion older filly or mare.

Eclipse Awards will be handed out in 12 equine categories, as well as five human divisions. Steve Asmussen, Curlin's trainer, is expected to pick up his first Eclipse Award as champion trainer after winning a single-season record 622 races in 2008. Garrett Gomez, who led the nation's jockeys in purse earnings, is expected to win his second straight Eclipse Award as champion jockey.

Most categories seem like slam dunks, such as Stardom Bound for 2-year-old filly, but there are a few that are not as clear cut and could provide some drama. Most notable is champion owner, which features IEAH Stables, the winner of 11 Grade 1 races last year, and Frank Stronach, who was listed as the nation's leader in purse earnings for much of the year until being passed in late December. Also seen as a close call is champion sprinter, featuring Midnight Lute, whose lone win was the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and Benny the Bull, who won four races earlier in the year before being retired.

Proud Spell and Music Note are vying for champion 3-year-old filly, Breeders' Cup winners Forever Together and Goldikova are among the finalists for champion female turf horse, and Ventura and Indian Blessing are seen as the top contenders for champion female sprinter.

Kenny Rice, best known for his work on NBC's racing coverage, is the master of ceremonies for the second straight year. The black-tie dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, and will be televised by TVG.