11/09/2006 1:00AM

Sneak peek at Eclipse ballot


NEW YORK - All nine of racing's divisional championships were up for grabs at the Breeders' Cup last Saturday, and it appears that the events of the day settled seven of them while throwing two others into complete disarray. If the ballots were due today instead of seven weeks hence, here's how the equine Eclipses would probably be awarded:

Two-year-old colt or gelding: Street Sense, in as much of a romp as his 10-length Juvenile victory. Granted, that was his lone stakes victory of the year, but it was so authoritative and of such high quality that there is no reasonable alternative.

Two-year-old filly: Dreaming of Anna will be a similarly lopsided winner. She's undefeated, beat males on grass, and every other title contender on dirt in the Juvenile Fillies. Case closed.

Three-year-old colt or gelding: Bernardini may or may not have been as good or potentially great a colt as Barbaro, but neither sentiment for the injured Derby winner nor resentment of Bernardini's arguably premature retirement should cloud the record. Bernardini won more races, more Grade 1 stakes, beat older horses and was a gallant second to the Horse of the Year in the Classic.

Three-year-old filly: Pine Island was something special, clearly the best of her crop, and we probably had yet to see the best of her.

Older male and Horse of the Year: Invasor left no room for doubt winning the Classic, yet remains somewhat underappreciated, perhaps for being more workmanlike than flashy in both appearance and performance. And could we stop holding his lone career defeat, a fourth-place finish in Dubai off a four-month layoff, against him? Discreet Cat did not establish himself as six lengths better than Invasor that day, as Invasor also finished behind the mediocre Testimony and Flamme de Passion while obviously not firing anything close to his best shot.

Older female: While Round Pond won the Distaff by daylight, she simply did not accomplish enough this year to be given serious consideration as a divisional champion. Fleet Indian won six races at five different tracks and had by far the best campaign of any older dirt filly.

That was the easy half-dozen. Things get much murkier in at least two of the final three categories.

Grass male: Cases can be made, and votes will be cast, for at least five horses in the wake of upsets in the Turf and Mile. Personally, I can't endorse English Channel after he failed in the Arlington Million and the Turf; The Tin Man, a wonderful old campaigner but a lucky front-end winner of the Million who skipped the Turf and was unimpressive winning a weak Clement Hirsch; Aragorn, who failed in the Mile and did not win outside of California; or Red Rocks, whose Turf victory was his lone stakes victory. That leaves me perfectly happy to vote for Miesque's Approval, who won the Mile and put together the most complete campaign, winning 5 of 7 starts over four different tracks.

Grass female: I will have no hesitation voting for Ouija Board to enter racing's Hall of Fame the moment she is eligible, and she may well be the most accomplished female grass runner of all time. Even so, I find it slightly less than automatic to give her this particular title off a single American start, impressive as she was winning the Filly and Mare Turf. Gorella and Wait a While both accomplished special things on these shores, and each did more than some recent winners of this title. Still, both lost on Cup Day while Ouija Board won, and I won't complain when Ouija Board wins this in a landslide.

Sprinter: This is the messiest category besides the grass-male title. Giving a title to Thor's Echo off a single victory in six starts this year would be like honoring Round Pond or Red Rocks. It is commendable that his connections are trying to improve his credentials with a scheduled start in the Grade 1 De Francis Dash on Nov. 25, where another victory over quality opposition could tilt things in his favor, but at the moment I would side with Bordonaro. He and Thor's Echo split their two decisions, but Bordonaro has three impressive triumphs to his credit and won from coast to coast.

The Breeders' Cup does an excellent job of sorting out most titles, but it is a strength rather than a weakness of racing's championship process that there is still room to reward horses for a body of work rather than disqualify them for a single failure. Such flexibility extends to the Eclipse Awards themselves. While there is not a proper divisional title for Barbaro, it is odds-on that the brilliant colt, his connections, and the heroic veterinary team that kept him alive will receive an appropriate special Eclipse on the night that the sport's best are honored.