11/07/2005 12:00AM

No clear champion in three divisions


NEW YORK - Now that the dust from the Breeders' Cup has settled and we have had more than a week to consider the ramifications of the results, and brainstorm with colleagues, it is a good time to analyze the Eclipse Awards picture.

The championships in most divisions have all but been decided. By virtue of their respective wins in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and BC Juvenile Fillies, coupled with previous graded stakes romps, Stevie Wonderboy and Folklore have clinched the 2-year-old titles.

Intercontinental was already the best female turf miler in the nation, and when she managed to carry her speed the full 1 1/4 miles of the BC Filly and Mare Turf, she became a worthy winner of the turf female Eclipse Award.

Afleet Alex did not compete on Breeders' Cup Day, and it is good to see his people have finally decided to stop trying to cram another race into him this year before he is completely recovered from surgery. But even though he was absent from the Breeders' Cup, Afleet Alex emerged as the 3-year-old male champion, which is as it should be for one who thoroughly dominated two-thirds of the Triple Crown.

Ashado winning the Eclipse Award as top older female is no cinch after her distant third in the BC Distaff. But given the lack of a suitable alternative, Ashado is likely to take her division on her body of work over the season.

And by virtue of his victory in the BC Classic, Saint Liam - who was also a Grade 1 winner this year in February, June, and September - wrapped up champion older male, as well as Horse of the Year honors. I know the Afleet Alex people would disagree, but the argument that Afleet Alex is a viable Horse of the Year candidate because he finished farther ahead of Flower Alley in the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby than Saint Liam did in the Classic is specious.

As nice and neat as the above Eclipse Awards appear, the three remaining divisions are completely unsettled and messy. For example, Smuggler will probably take the 3-year-old filly title, but only because no one else in this division stepped up when the game was begging for someone to do so. Smuggler is an unsatisfying candidate because her victories in the Mother Goose and Coaching Club American Oaks occurred over a period of only one month. She has not raced since July because of illness, and it would be a lot easier to feel better about her if she came back with a late-season win over older opponents in a race such as the Top Flight or Falls City. Without a published workout since Aug. 26, a late-season comeback does not appear likely.

One who should get respect, but probably won't, is Splendid Blended. She only raced twice this year, and her only win came in the Vanity Handicap. But in the Vanity, Splendid Blended beat good older opponents such as Island Fashion and Andujar, and a victory over solid older mares is something every other legitimate contender in this division lacks.

Leroidesanimaux, Artie Schiller, Shirocco, and Powerscourt are the four leading candidates in a wide-open male turf division. Powerscourt was brilliant winning the Arlington Million, but one American win in August falls short. Artie Schiller did deny Leroidesanimaux a perfect season in the Breeders' Cup Mile. But the world knows Leroidesanimaux was physically compromised that day, and that means Artie Schiller will have a tough time convincing voters.

I thought Shirocco was terrific winning the Breeders' Cup Turf because he made first run at the rabbit Shake the Bank, and still won decisively. I also don't care that it was his only win of the year, because it came on America's championship day, and what happened to Shirocco in Europe should have no bearing. There is a history of European horses getting this divisional championship on the basis of one U.S. win in the BC Turf (High Chaparral, Fantastic Light, Kalanisi, and Daylami are very recent examples), and Shirocco might get my vote. But Leroidesanimaux is the tepid favorite to take this championship at this point.

Finally, there is the sprint division. I freely admit that while the alternatives are not particularly appealing, I am shocked that Lost in the Fog is still considered by so many people to be a viable candidate for the sprint championship. He won a lot of races, but not one of them was a championship-caliber type race, and he did not beat one championship-caliber type horse. The only time Lost in the Fog competed in a championship-type race, he was crushed in the BC Sprint.

Woke Up Dreamin could have been a contender had he come back and won a third major sprint stakes this year in a race such as the De Francis Memorial, but he was retired - again - last week. Taste of Paradise is a legitimate candidate because he won the Vosburgh and was probably best in the Sprint, and so is Silver Train, because, after all, he won the Sprint, the race that counted the most. It could come down to the Cigar Mile, which could conceivably lure both Taste of Paradise and Silver Train, and purists should not complain if a one-mile race is a determining factor in the sprint division. A loss in last year's Cigar Mile probably cost Pico Central the 2004 sprint championship. So it is perfectly fair that the Cigar Mile be in play in this division this year.