11/09/2007 12:00AM

Older male Eclipse no done deal

EmailPHOENIX - It's refreshing that so many of the championships were settled in the Breeders' Cup races at Monmouth Park, despite the conditions. I have to admit, however, that I'm still perplexed as to why so many believe Lawyer Ron a slam dunk to be named champion older horse. As my colleague Mike Watchmaker touched on in his space here Wednesday, there are others who compare favorably, particularly since the year isn't done. So, a tale of the tape appears in order.

Lawyer Ron

Major wins: He won the Grade 1 Whitney and Grade 1 Woodward, both at Saratoga and both in dazzling fashion. He also won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap.

Major placings: His second to the likely Horse of the Year, Curlin, in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup looked even better after Curlin's BC Classic tour de force.

Major drawbacks: On racing's biggest day, the Breeders' Cup, he didn't show up. Sure, the track was a sea of slop, but as people keep saying, champions don't need excuses. It would have been fine had he run well, but he was seventh and no factor after six furlongs. Also, the quality of opposition he had beaten raises questions. Sure, those Saratoga wins were huge, but there are plenty of horses around who can beat Diamond Stripes, Wanderin Boy, and Sun King, who all lost their most recent starts. He and Corinthian split their two head-to-head meetings.

The fact that Lawyer Ron freaked at Saratoga is nagging, too. Was he simply a Saratoga specialist? And why should two Grade 1 wins there, over a track he obviously adored against suspect competition, count more than Grade 1 wins elsewhere? I guarantee you if a California horse or a Kentucky horse had gone through the roof at, say, Santa Anita or Keeneland, posting Beyer Speed Figures of 117 and 119, critics would be moaning, "Oh, those big wins came at that goofy (insert track name here)."

Corinthian

Major wins: He won the Grade 1 Met Mile and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. While the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile isn't officially designated a Grade 1, let's face it, that was a Grade 1 race nevertheless.

Major placings: None to speak of. He was a feast-or-famine type all year.

Major drawbacks: That inconsistency works against him. While he came up huge on occasion (his Beyer Figure from the BC Dirt Mile was 119, which is as good as what Lawyer Ron earned at Saratoga), he sometimes failed to fire. But versatility should count, as he won at 1 1/8 miles, 1 3/16 miles, one mile, and 1 1/16 miles.

Invasor

Major wins: He overcame significant trouble to dominate the Grade 1 Donn in his first start of the year, then destroyed the opposition in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup to solidify his status as the best main-track horse in the world.

Major placings: When you don't lose, you don't have to worry about this category.

Major drawbacks: He ran just twice this year, in February and March, so by the time Street Sense, Curlin, Corinthian, Hard Spun, and Lawyer Ron were padding their resumes, this guy had already been injured and retired. That lack of activity works against him.P

Midnight Lute

Major wins: He won the Grade 1 Forego and Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint in devastating fashion. He earned a Beyer Figure of 124 in the Forego - that's the highest Beyer since Ghostzapper's when he won the 2004 BC Classic at Lone Star. The highest Beyer Figure registered since DRF starting publishing them is Ghostzapper's 128 earned at Monmouth that same year, and only Precisionist's 125 Beyer earned in the 1985 BC Sprint is higher among BC Beyers. Midnight Lute's BC Sprint may not have registered as high on the Beyer scale, but from a visual standpoint was just as spectacular.

Major placings: While his two big moments came sprinting, he did finish second (beaten just a nose) in the Grade 2 San Fernando at 1 1/16 miles. The horse who beat him that day, Awesome Gem, was fairly unknown at the time but went on to have a super year (second in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic, second in the Grade 1 Goodwood, third in the Grade 1 BC Classic). Midnight Lute is also the only one on this list who performed at a high level on both coasts.

Major drawbacks: The lack of a win beyond a sprint distance makes him a longshot in this category. There's no doubting his talent, but since he has been so dominant sprinting, voters may likely view it as a situation where he'll get his award in another spot (top sprinter), leading them to look elsewhere in this category - like not voting for a baseball pitcher for MVP because there's already the Cy Young for pitchers. But will that thinking change should he come back to win the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in dominating fashion in a few weeks?

So you can see, there's no reason Lawyer Ron should be some cinch to win this award. He may be deserving and he may well get it, but barring something unforeseen or some revelation for me, it will be Invasor's name that I write into that top spot on my ballot.