01/21/2011 4:57PM

Four Eclipse Award winners ended year on a down note


NEW YORK – The Eclipse Award winners of 2010 may have unwittingly set a precedent: Lose your last race or two and be declared the best in your division.

Four Eclipse winners in five divisions managed this ignominious feat. Zenyatta led the parade as her loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic earned her Horse of the Year and best older female honors, those coming after she failed to beat a single Grade 1 winner in her five Grade 1 victories. Gio Ponti won an Eclipse as best turf horse, despite finishing second to Goldikova in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This was a year after he had lost his last two races before copping two Eclipse Awards.

Lookin At Lucky grabbed the 3-year-old trophy, despite his fourth-place finish in the Classic, and after he dodged first-class competition in the Jockey Club Gold Cup for a trip to Hoosier Park, where he won the Indiana Derby.

And finally there is Blind Luck, the aptly named filly who landed 3-year-old distaff honors, despite second-place finishes in her last two outings.

Any of these horses may or may not be the best in their respective divisions. All of them, however, ended their championship seasons on a sour note.

Meydan jockey colony hard to top

The best jockey colony in the world this winter is competing in Dubai, and it is not even close. The colony includes:

◗ Olivier Peslier, the four-time French champion and rider of three-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova who rates as the world’s best big-race rider.

◗ Frankie Dettori, the nonpareil Italian who has been racing’s best ambassador for as many years as you can count, the winner of 10 British classics, seven French classics, five Irish classics, three Italian classics, two German classics, six Breeders’ Cup races, four King Georges, three Arcs, and three Japan Cups, and who rides regularly, of course, for Godolphin.

◗ Kieren Fallon, six times the leading rider in Britain where he has won 15 classics on top of five Irish classics and two Arcs.

Three-time British riding champ Ryan Moore, 2003 French champ Christophe Soumillon – the winner of 11 French classics in his brief career – and Christophe Lemaire, perhaps the best rider in the world not to have won a national riding title, also are taking advantage of the easy schedule (they race at Meydan just 11 times in nine weeks) and big money (the average Thoroughbred purse at the first two meetings this season has been $127,500).

In fact the group assembled in Dubai this year may be the best ever at given racetrack in modern history.

The horses running at Meydan these first two weeks are fully deserving of their esteemed riders. Twelve of the 14 races run to date have included at least one Group 2 winner, and seven of those 12 have included at least one Group 1 winner. Most of the races have had multiple Group 1 or 2 winners, plus a smattering of Group 3 winners.

As usual, ace South African trainer Mike de Kock is present with a stable full of hot items. Among them are Anaerobio, a three-time Group 1 winner in his native Argentina who is being aimed at the UAE Derby. De Kock’s compatriot Herman Brown has an Argentine-bred 3-year-old in Paulinho. The winner of the Estrellas Juvenile, the Argentine equivalent of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Paulinho has won all three of his races to date by a combined 25 lengths. He, too, is a UAE Derby candidate.

The barns at Meydan this winter have a decidedly Newmarket feel to them. British trainers Ralph Beckett, Michael Channon, Peter Chapple-Hyam, Clive Cox, Luca Cumani, Ed Dunlop, John Gosden, David Nicholls, and Walter Swinburn all have strings in Dubai. Not be outdone, the French are present with Rodolphe Collet, Mikel Delzangles, John Hammond, Xavier Nakkachdji, and Alain de Royer-Dupre. The Irish are led by Tracey Collins, David Marnane, and David Wachman, and we may even see Aidan O’Brien there later in the meeting. Although Coolmore hasn’t had a runner in Dubai since Powerscourt finished fifth in the 2005 Dubai Sheema Classic, they have nominated Cape Blanco to both the World Cup and the Sheema Classic as well as four other O’Brien trainees to assorted races on World Cup Night.

A Coolmore presence in Dubai this winter is predicated, however, on an ironing out of the long-running private dispute between John Magnier and Sheikh Mohammed, the man in charge of Godolphin, Darley, and Gainsborough, not to mention Dubai itself.