01/15/2014 2:36PM

Jay Hovdey: She's a Tiger part-owner not fretting over Juvenile Filly vote

Barbara D. Livingston
In what is expected to be one of the closest contests in the Eclipse Awards, She's a Tiger (right) and Ria Antonia are the leading contenders for champion Juvenile Filly.

Now that the Golden Globes ceremony of Hollywood self-flagellation is finished, and Jacqueline Bisset has concluded her acceptance speech, we can move on to the more important business of passing out the Eclipse Awards.

The dinner will be held Saturday night at Gulfstream Park. Racing fans without a ticket to the dance will be in the room courtesy of live coverage on HRTV and DRF.com. This means they will a) have access to better food service at home, b) enjoy a broader range of wardrobe choices, and c) be able to change the channel to the Screen Actors Guild Awards and pull for Bruce Dern, the Wise Dan of his particular profession. (Watch “Silent Running” again, or for the first time. Thank me later.)

[Eclipse Awards 2013: Watch Saturday's Eclipse Awards dinner live]

There will be suspense in a few of the categories, although when the vote totals are finally revealed even the closest contests, in terms of public discussion, usually turn out to be one-sided. Still, it will come as a surprise if the decision of the 249 voters in the category of champion 2-year-old filly does not end up a real squeaker between Ria Antonia and She’s a Tiger.

This would be only fitting. When last seen in public the two were scrapping down to the wire in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She’s a Tiger finished first by a nose but then, on a split decision, she was disqualified for interference late in the game.

The jubilation of owners Ron Paolucci and Christopher Dunn at Santa Anita that day was mirrored by the shattering sense of loss experienced by the people in the She’s a Tiger partnership. Words are inadequate to describe how Dr. Mark Dedomenico, Allen Aldrich, Stuart Downey, Lisa Hernandez, and Phil Lebherz felt after winning – then losing – the $2 million race.

“I think we got a bad deal, but we’ve just got to let it go,” Dedomenico said from his Pegasus Equine Training and Rehabilitation center near Seattle. “It’s too hard to carry that kind of thing around with you for too long.”

If anyone would know the effects of a stress-related load, it’s Dedomenico. In his role as a cardiovascular surgeon he was among the inventors and developers of heart bypass surgery. When Dedomenico dons another hat, he is the founder of 20/20 Lifestyles, dedicated to promoting healthy habits in diet and exercise that would reduce the necessity for procedures like heart bypass surgery.

Dedomenico also has survived 40 years in the Thoroughbred business – a stress test if ever there was one – which means he should be able to handle the drama of opening a sealed envelope that might or might not contain the name of She’s a Tiger on Saturday night. In January 2011, he took the stage as a winner, when his Blind Luck was voted champion 3-year-old filly of 2010.

“I have no idea who’s going to get it, but we’re going anyway,” Dedomenico said. “We need to be there because she’s done such a good job for us this year.”

If nothing else, She’s a Tiger was the most tenacious, consistent filly at the highest possible levels during 2013. She ran six times from June to November, finishing first four times (including the DQ) and second twice. The only time she did not have another horse in the picture was in her debut at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, when she won a maiden race by nine lengths.

“We ran at Pleasanton because one of the owners lived there,” Dedomenico said. “I like to be a part of a syndicate like this. It gets people involved and excited about the sport. That’s what racing’s all about, isn’t it?”

She’s a Tiger was ridden in her most recent starts by Gary Stevens, who is among the Eclipse Award finalists in the jockey category after his outstanding comeback season at the age of 50, after a seven-year retirement. Stevens prepared for his return with an intense fitness program at one of Dedomenico’s Pro Sports Club facilities, along with time spent on horseback at Pegasus.

“Gary did that on his own,” Dedomenico said. “He lost a lot of weight, got himself in shape, and got his head right. We’d be glad to take a little of the responsibility, though.”

As far as that goes, Stevens shouldered the responsibility for the Breeders’ Cup disqualification, which ended up almost too close to call.

“We’ll let that slide,” said Dedomenico, spoken like someone with 40 years in the game.

Soon after the Breeders’ Cup, She’s a Tiger was sent north for a break between seasons under the care of Mike Puhich, Dedomenico’s resident trainer at the Pegasus facility.

“I get to see her every day,” Dedomenico said. “She’s doing great, and now she’s about ready to go back down to Jeff.”

That would be Jeff Bonde, who also trained She’s a Tiger’s accomplished half-brother Smiling Tiger, a winner of nearly $1.5 million. Bonde will set his sights on a spring campaign targeting the Kentucky Oaks, a race won by Blind Luck. Dedomenico was asked if She’s a Tiger has the potential to follow in her footsteps.

“She sure does,” he replied. “They’re the same type in a lot of ways. She’s a Tiger handles everything well, does whatever you ask of her. She’s just a grand horse.”

Maybe even a champion.