01/17/2008 1:00AM

Honoring the horses who paid off in 2007


This is awards season. The Golden Globes were given out last Sunday even though the ceremony was cancelled due to the Writers Guild of America strike. Oscar nominations will be announced Tuesday morning. In the horse racing world, the Eclipse Awards will be given out in Beverly Hills on Monday night to the top horses and top humans in the game.

This writer isn’t on strike, so the show will also go on at the eighth annual ROI Awards here in Las Vegas. ROI stands for return on investment, and for our purposes it refers to the average payoff you would have received if you had wagered $2 to win on each of a horse’s races during the course of the year.

Eclipse winners generally are star horses who get pounded at the betting windows. While we in Vegas applaud the beauty of the sport and the athletic ability of the champions, what we cheer for most of all here is our money, so the ROI Awards honors those horses who gave us the best bang for the buck.

Since these are meant as national awards, only horses who ran at major U.S. simulcast tracks that attracted sizable betting pools were considered, with a heavy emphasis on stakes races.

So, without further ado, the envelopes please . . .

Two-year-old female: I like to start the ROI Awards every year with a division that clearly shows the power of the ROI. Indian Blessing is a lock to win the Eclipse after winning all three of her 2007 starts, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. However, her winning mutuels were $3.70 in a maiden special at Saratoga, $3.30 in the Frizette at Belmont, and $5.40 in the BC at Monmouth. That’s a total of $12.40, which we divide by three races to get her ROI of $4.13 for every $2 wagered. That’s good, but not good enough for an ROI Award. Pure Clan went 4 for 4 and trumped Indian Blessing by paying $5, $7, $22.60 (in the Pocahontas at Churchill on Oct. 28), and $7.80 for earnings of $42.40 and a much more profitable ROI of $10.60.

Two-year-old male: War Pass will win the Eclipse in this division and had a very respectable ROI of $9.53 in his 4-for-4 campaign, and that was better than Majestic Warrior ($8.27) and Nownownow ($6.97), but he still loses out to Wicked Style, who followed up a $9.20 maiden win at Arlington with an $18 upset in the Arlington-Washington Futurity and a $24.20 score in the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Even a loss in the BC Juvenile didn’t cost Wicked Style the title here, with an overall ROI of $12.85.

Three-year-old female: This division was chalky all year, so it wasn’t surprising that all the top contenders had low ROIs, including Rags to Riches ($5.40), Lear’s Princess ($4), Panty Raid ($4.10) and Lady Joanne ($3.19). Rags to Riches might have won a Triple Crown race, but Christmas Kid, who won Belmont’s Grade 1 Acorn at 9-1 as well as Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Davona Dale at 5-1 and a $100,000 stakes at Calder at 5-2, gets the ROI tiara with earnings of $42.40 in seven starts and an ROI of $6.06.

Three-year-old male: Street Sense won the Kentucky Derby, which really kills a horse’s odds in subsequent races, and he returned only $2.70 apiece in his Jim Dandy and Travers victories before losing his final two races of the year to finish with an ROI of $2.70. Curlin came on strong to finish at $4.76, but no one could catch Tiago, who won the Santa Anita Derby at 29-1 and added the Swaps and Goodwood for good measure to finish with an ROI of $8.90 from eight starts.

Older male: Like Tiago, Student Council used a major SoCal upset to steal this category. He won the Pacific Classic at $48.80, along with short-priced victories at Fair Grounds, Sam Houston, and in the Hawthorne Gold Cup to end the year with an ROI of $7.88 from eight starts. I don’t include the Japan Cup Dirt, but even if I did, Student Council would still have an ROI of $7 to hold off Flashy Bull at $5.48.

Older female: Nashoba’s Key nearly stole this award with an ROI of $4.70, but the nod goes to Unbridled Belle, who won the Delaware Handicap at $18.60 and then the Beldame at $15.40 for $34 in total winnings and an ROI of $6.80 from five starts.

Sprinters: This has been split into male and female categories this year, and the ROI Awards changes with the times. Bilo wins the male sprinter hardware for a $9.30 ROI, thanks to a $21.60 score in the Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood back in July. As for female sprinters, Maryfield won the BC Filly and Mare Sprint at $18 to boost her ROI to $8.53 from eight starts, but it still wasn’t quite enough to catch River’s Prayer, who won Grade 1 Princess Rooney at Calder at $24.80 and finished the year with an ROI of $9.

Turf male: Like a lot of turf races, this was a blanket finish in this division. Right there at the wire were Daytona ($6.37), Jambalaya ($6.47), Grand Couturier ($6.64), and BC Mile winner Kip Deville ($7.09). But it was Lang Field who got up late with his $39.60 victory in Hollywood’s Citation Handicap on Nov. 23 to boost his 10-race ROI to $7.18 and grab the win here by a nose.

Turf female and ROI HOY: Entering the fall, Lahudood had only a $2.50 victory in a first-level allowance race in her first three starts of 2007. But then she won the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont and paid $44.40 and followed that up with a $25.40 win in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Her total winnings were $72.30 from five starts for an ROI of $14.46, and she wins not only the turf female division but the prestigious ROI Horse of the Year.

That’s it for this year’s honors. Have a good night, and enjoy the “other” awards shows.