01/24/2006 1:00AM

Racing goes Hollywood for a night

Suzanne and William Warren Jr. are presented Saint Liam's Horse of the Year Eclipse by D.G. Van Clief Jr. of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Breeders' Cup.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - One of the reasons the National Thoroughbred Racing Association has decided to keep the Eclipse Awards ceremony in California for several years is because of the access to Hollywood celebrities to give the black-tie ceremony some pizzazz.

No one has embraced the concept better than Merv Griffin, who was a presenter in past years, and was again Monday night at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, at which he also picked up an Eclipse Award for his colt Stevie Wonderboy, the champion 2-year-old male of 2005.

Griffin, who has a large entertainment and real estate empire, first appeared on Monday night to present the Eclipse Award for champion older male. Surveying the ballroom, he mused, "Do I own this hotel? I still can't remember." In fact, Griffin owns the nearby Beverly Hilton.

Griffin said having Stevie Wonderboy raised the quality of horses he has owned from past years, when he joked that he would "claim a lot of Tim Conway's horses."

Griffin also bantered animatedly with Larry King, who presented the award to Griffin for Stevie Wonderboy. King said he appreciated being at the ceremony because "I've left so much money at the track."

Warren credits teamwork

William Warren Jr., who owned Horse of the Year Saint Liam with his wife, Suzanne, likened the success his horse had in 2005 to that of a football team trying to win the Super Bowl.

Warren called bloodstock agent Mark Reid, who plotted Saint Liam's campaign, "the general manager." Rick Dutrow Jr., who trained Saint Liam, was "the head coach." He called bloodstock agent Mike Ryan "the man in charge of player selecting, drafting." And he called jockeys Jerry Bailey and Edgar Prado, who rode Saint Liam last year, "the co-players."

"There's a TV show called 'The Amazing Race,' " Warren said. "Well, this has been an amazing year for me and Suzanne."

Many champ runners returning

Half of the 10 horses honored with Eclipse Awards are expected to race in 2006, and two have already started.

Stevie Wonderboy finished second in the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 14, two days before Folklore, the champion 2-year-old female, finished third in the Santa Ynez Stakes.

Both are being prepared for stakes at Santa Anita later this winter.

Three others champions are in various stages of making comebacks.

Smuggler, the champion 3-year-old filly, is based in Florida with trainer Shug McGaughey. She is expected to start during the current Gulfstream Park meeting.

Lost in the Fog, the champion sprinter, recently returned to trainer Greg Gilchrist's barn in northern California after being given a break in late 2005. Lost in the Fog has lost once in his 11-race career, a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont Park in October.

Lost in the Fog's owner, Harry Aleo, has set a goal of a repeat championship for 2006, plus one unfinished task.

"With a little racing luck, and if the equine gods smile on us, we'll look forward to coming back here next year," he said in his acceptance speech. "He's the sprinter of the year and a sprinter of a lifetime for me. He'll be back, bigger and stronger, and we've got our eyes on the Breeders' Cup this year."

Aleo said he was not concerned that Lost in the Fog lost this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"Citation lost a few, Secretariat lost a few - even Man o 'War got beat," he said. "So the Fog lost one out of 11 - that's not too bad."

McDynamo still in action

Steeplechase champion McDynamo was the senior citizen of the equine winners, racing as an 8-year-old in 2005. He will be back this year at 9 and has already resumed preparation in Pennsylvania, according to trainer Sanna Hendriks.

"He's back and he's been foxhunting a few times," Hendriks said.

She said that McDynamo has also had a few exercise sessions at an indoor arena, where he can jump lower hurdles than what he would encounter in a race.

"It keeps him fit and happy," she said.

Owner Michael Moran and Hendriks have three major races as goals for McDynamo in 2006: the Royal Chase at Keeneland in April, the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase in New Jersey in October, and the Colonial Cup in South Carolina in November.

Chenery advocates promotion

Penny Chenery, who became a popular figure in the 1970's as the owner of Secretariat, was gratified to receive the Eclipse Award of Merit, and took the opportunity to cajole owners in the audience to use the platform of a top horse to promote the sport wherever possible.

"It's a wonderful life that a truly great horse can bring to you," she said.

Race-caller Dave Johnson, who introduced Chenery, called her "the unofficial ambassador for the sport."

* Conspicuous by his absence was owner Bob Lewis, who campaigned 2-year-old filly champion Folklore with his wife, Beverly. On accepting the award, Beverly said, "I'm not accustomed to coming up here without my husband. Bob sends his best."

Bob Lewis was not feeling well enough to attend the ceremony.

* It was a reflective Jerry Bailey, who will retire after Saturday, who presented two awards. Bailey announced Eclipse winners for steeplechase and female turf horse, but before he did, he said to the audience, "I've fulfilled dreams that I never could have imagined. Thank you . . . for having me in your life."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Brad Free