02/19/2002 12:00AM

Not perfect, but good enough


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Okay, so she might have won a little ugly. But a champion is a champion is a champion, and the Eclipse Award for older filly and mare for 2001 will forever belong to Gourmet Girl.

Granted, this was not a banner year for fillies and mares. The three finalists for the Eclipse were Gourmet Girl, Tranquility Lake and Spain, and in most years their accomplishments would not have been enough to make any of them a major contender for the award.

Spain won just once in nine starts, taking the Grade 2 La Canada in February. Her best race came in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, when she was beaten in the final stride by 3-year-old Unbridled Elaine.

Tranquility Lake spent most of the year on the grass, posting two wins and three seconds on that surface. In her two dirt tries, she won the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch in August and finished ninth in the BC Distaff.

Gourmet Girl won three of six starts, capturing two Grade 1's, the Apple Blossom and Vanity, before being sidelined by injury after finishing second in the Clement Hirsch.

The Eclipse voters decided that Gourmet Girl was the most deserving of the award. Gourmet Girl, a California-based filly owned by Gary Tanaka and trained by Pico Perdomo, represents the first Eclipse for Tanaka, who has invested tens of millions of dollars in the racing industry over the last decade or so.

Neither Tanaka nor Perdomo attended the Eclipse dinner. Tanaka's racing manager, Andy Smith, accepted the award from Paul Hornung.

The Eclipse was the second of the year for a son or daughter of the California sire Cee's Tizzy. His son Tiznow was named champion for the second straight year Monday night.

Gourmet Girl, bred in California by Carl and Olivia Cannata, was bought by Perdomo for $3,500 as a yearling in 1996. Tanaka bought her privately in 1999 and allowed her to stay with Perdomo, who has saddled her for all 33 of her starts. Overall, Gourmet Girl has won nine times and $1,255,373, with $554,950 coming last year.

Gourmet Girl, now 7, was entered but withdrawn from the Keeneland November breeding stock sale. She is now boarded in Kentucky, with her plans indefinite for this year. Tanaka typically buys promising mares as racing prospects, then sells them once they are retired.