01/25/2005 12:00AM

Ghostzapper . . . in front!

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Ghostzapper outpolls Smarty Jones to capture the 2004 Horse of the Year award.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Eclipse Award voters decided that the best was saved for last in 2004. Ghostzapper, whose dazzling second half of the year included a runaway victory against one of the best Breeders' Cup Classic fields ever assembled, outpolled early-season sensation Smarty Jones to capture the 2004 Horse of the Year award.

Both Ghostzapper and Smarty Jones were overwhelming winners of divisional titles, with Ghostzapper also being named champion older male, and Smarty Jones champion 3-year-old colt.

Those results, along with all other equine and human championships, were revealed Monday by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association at the 34th annual Eclipse Awards dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.

Todd Pletcher, trainer of two of the year's champions, was voted top trainer, while Ken and Sarah Ramsey were voted outstanding owners.

Ghostzapper, a son of Awesome Again owned and bred by Frank Stronach, trained by Bobby Frankel, and ridden by Javier Castellano, won all four of his starts last year in a campaign that went from July 4 to Oct. 30. In addition to the Breeders' Cup Classic, he also won the Woodward Stakes, Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap, and Tom Fool Handicap. He is in training and will race this year at age 5.

Smarty Jones was the most popular horse in racing the first half of the year, when he won his first six starts, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, to put himself on the verge of becoming the first horse to sweep the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. But he finished a weary second in the June 5 Belmont Stakes, never raced again, and two months later was retired to stud.

Of the 329 eligible voters representing the NTRA, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers Association, 274 cast ballots. Of those, 174 voted for Ghostzapper, and 95 for Smarty Jones. Ashado, who was named champion 3-year-old filly, and Kitten's Joy, who won the male turf championship, received one vote apiece for Horse of the Year. Three voters abstained.

Stronach, whose Adena Springs Farm bred Ghostzapper, won the Eclipse Award as champion breeder.

Several categories - such as sprinter, trainer, and owner - were perceived as close calls before the results were revealed. Speightstown, the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, defeated Pico Central for champion sprinter by 157 votes to 101. Ghostzapper finished third in the sprint division with 15 votes.

Although the votes are not herded into blocs as they were in previous years, it is interesting to note that voters from the NTRA (39-12) and NTWA (91-52) preferred Speightstown, but Daily Racing Form voters went for Pico Central by 37-27. Pico Central defeated Speightstown in their lone head-to-head meeting in the Vosburgh, but Pico Central subsequently bypassed the Breeders' Cup and then was upset in the Cigar Mile.

The victories by Ashado and Speightstown, coupled with leading the nation in purse earnings, propelled Pletcher to his first Eclipse Award as champion trainer. Pletcher received 155 votes, more than double the 71 votes of second-place Steve Asmussen, who set a single-season record for victories in 2004 with 555 wins. Frankel was third with 35 votes, and John Servis, the trainer of Smarty Jones, finished fourth with 12.

John Velazquez, who rides first call for Pletcher and was the regular rider of both Ashado and Speightstown, won his first Eclipse Award as champion jockey.

Pletcher's victory over Asmussen appeared to show that most Eclipse voters went for quality over quantity, and that also played out in the voting for champion owner. Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who campaigned Kitten's Joy as well as the top older horses Nothing to Lose and Roses in May, received 100 first-place votes to beat out Michael Gill, whose claiming-based operation led the nation in wins and purse earnings last year. Gill received 79 votes.

Gill actually received more votes than the Ramseys (19-13) from the NTRA, but Ramsey led Gill in votes cast by the NTWA (61-39) and Daily Racing Form (26-21). The voting was completed in late December, before Ken Ramsey was fined by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority as a result of trying to get another owner to scratch a horse on Dec. 31 at Turfway Park.

Many other divisional winners were expected, including Declan's Moon (2-year-old male), Sweet Catomine (2-year-old filly), Azeri (older female), Ouija Board (turf female), and Hirapour (steeplechaser). Brian Hernandez Jr. was named champion apprentice jockey.

The divisional title for Azeri was her third straight. She also was the Horse of the Year in 2002. Azeri received 179 first-place votes, nearly twice as many as runner-up Sightseek (91). Azeri and Sightseek split their only two meetings last year.

The Breeders' Cup appeared to be a major factor in determining this year's champions. Ashado, Ghostzapper, Ouija Board, Speightstown, and Sweet Catomine all parlayed Breeders' Cup victories into Eclipse Awards.

Sweet Catomine was the most overwhelming divisional winner. She received 273 of a possible 274 votes, with only one Daily Racing Form member denying her a unanimous selection by voting for Runway Model, who finished third to Sweet Catomine in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Ghostzapper also was a one-sided choice as best older male. He received 269 votes, with only Dubai World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect (four votes) and Whitney Handicap winner Roses in May (one) getting other votes.

It was a similar scenario for 3-year-old male, with Smarty Jones receiving 265 votes to seven for Kitten's Joy and two for Birdstone, who spoiled Smarty Jones's Triple Crown bid in the Belmont.

Ashado, who won the Breeders' Cup Distaff, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Coaching Club American Oaks, received 257 first-place votes. Ouija Board was a distant second with 14.

Kitten's Joy captured the male turf championship on the strength of his overall year, even though he was upset by Better Talk Now in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Kitten's Joy received 247 first-place votes to 12 for Breeders' Cup Mile winner Singletary and nine for Better Talk Now.

British-based Ouija Board made just one start in this country, but she made it count. Her victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf helped bring her 235 votes to 24 for runner-up Ticker Tape and six for Intercontinental.

Declan's Moon, who completed an undefeated year by winning the Hollywood Futurity, received 188 first-place votes to defeat Afleet Alex (44) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko (22) easily.

Hernandez (164 votes) received nearly double the total of second-place Pablo Fragoso (84) for champion apprentice jockey.

The Cella Family and Oaklawn Park received the Eclipse Award of Merit. Dale Baird, the all-time winningest trainer, received a Special Eclipse Award. Media winners in newspapers, radio, television, and photography - all announced previously - were also recognized.

How they voted

Eclipse Award balloting concluded Dec. 27, 2004. Voters were asked to rank the top three finishers in each division. Winners were determined by first-place votes only. Following are the first-place votes cast by members of the three blocs that make up the Eclipse electorate: NTRA/Equibase, Daily Racing Form, and National Turf Writers Assocaition.

Two-Year-Old Male

Declan's Moon,188; Afleet Alex, 44; Wilko, 22; Rockport Harbor 17; Roman Ruler, 1. Voter abstentions, 2.

Two-Year-Old Filly

Sweet Catomine, 273; Runway Model, 1. No abstentions.

Three-Year-Old Male

Smarty Jones, 265; Kitten's Joy, 7; Birdstone, 2. No abstentions..

Three-Year-Old Female

Ashado, 257; Ouija Board (GB), 14; Stellar Jayne, 1. Abstentions, 2.

Older Male

Ghostzapper, 269; Pleasantly Perfect, 4; Roses in May, 1. No abstentions.

Older Female

Azeri,179; Sightseek, 91; Storm Flag Flying 3; Adoration, 1. No abstentions.

Sprinter

Speightstown, 157; Pico Central (BRZ), 101; Ghostzapper, 15. Abstentions, 1.

Male Turf Horse

Kitten's Joy, 247; Singletary, 12; Better Talk Now, 9; Soaring Free, 2; Sulamani, 2; Leroidesanimaux, 1; Nothing to Lose, 1. No abstentions.

Female Turf Horse

Ouija Board (GB), 235; Ticker Tape (GB), 24; Intercontinental (GB), 6; Light Jig (GB), 2; Megahertz (GB), 2; Wonder Again, 2; Commercante (FR), 1; Lucifer's Stone, 1. Abstentions, 1.

Steeplechase Horse

Hirapour (IRE), 216; Sur La Tete, 10; McDynamo, 8; Preemptive Strike, 2; Tres Touche, 2; Cherokee in the Hills, 1. Abstentions, 35.

Horse of the Year

Ghostzapper, 174; Smarty Jones, 95; Ashado, 1; Kitten's Joy,1. Voter Abstentions, 3.

Owner

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, 100; Michael Gill, 79; Someday Farm, 41; Adena Springs/Stronach Entities, 27; Juddmonte Farms, 12; Gary Tanaka, 2, Eugene and Laura Melnyk, 2; Sam-Son Farm, 2; Robert Bone,1; Robert and Beverly Lewis, 1; Louis O'Brien, 1. Abstentions, 6.

Breeder

Adena Springs, 166; Juddmonte Farms 26; John Franks, 18; Someday Farm, 16; Aaron and Marie Jones, 13; Farnsworth Farms, 9; Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, 9; William S. Farish, 3; Arthur Appleton, 1; Mr. and Mrs. Martin J. Wygod, 1. Abstentions, 12.

Trainer

Todd Pletcher, 155; Steve Asmussen, 71; Robert Frankel 35; John Servis 12; Abstentions, 1.

Jockey

John Velazquez, 241; Edgar Prado, 14; Rafael Bejarano, 6; Jerry Bailey, 4; Stewart Elliott, 4; Ramon Dominguez, 3; Alex Solis, 1. Abstentions, 1.

Apprentice Jockey

Brian Hernandez, Jr., 164; Pablo Fragoso, 84; Mick Ruis, 5; James Graham, 2; Eric Camacho, 1; Brandon Whitacre, 1. Abstentions, 17.