11/12/2004 1:00AM

Some Eclipse Award battles still up in the air


PHOENIX - While the Breeders' Cup often wraps up Eclipse Awards into a nice, tidy little package with a bow, it also often leaves a number of questions unanswered. This year is no different.

Sprint: My first inclination was that Pico Central had to be champion sprinter. After all, in their only head-to-head battle, in the Vosburgh, Pico Central drilled Speightstown. But a colleague of mine brought up a couple of good points that had me reconsider.

What if Kela beats Pico Central in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile? Should that happen, it would mean Kela would be 2 for 3 against Pico Central, having beaten Pico Central in the Cigar Mile and Pat O'Brien, while losing to him in the San Carlos. Yet Kela lost to Speightstown in their only meeting. If you judge Pico Central and Speightstown on their head-to-head battles, how do you reconcile voting for Pico Central if Kela wins the Cigar?

You could give Pico Central an excuse in the Pat O'Brien, as he was coming off a layoff forced by a foot injury. But if you give Pico Central an excuse, can't you do the same thing for Speightstown when he obviously didn't run his race in the Grade 1 Vosburgh? You can't have it both ways.

I still believe Pico Central will validate his championship form in the Cigar Mile, and should he do that it gives him three Grade 1 wins around one turn this year (Met Mile, Vosburgh, Cigar Mile) to Speightstown's one (BC Sprint). While some may question whether mile races should count toward the sprint championship, I have no problem doing so. Unless Kela beats Pico Central in the Cigar Mile, Pico Central is going to get my vote for champion sprinter - though Ghostzapper could likely have them all for lunch at any trip.

Juvenile: Okay, so Wilko won the BC Juvenile. Are we going to give the trophy to him based on just that? I want success over a period of time, not just a one-day show. Suppose Declan's Moon wins the Grade 3 Prevue at Hollywood this week then comes back to beat Wilko in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity in December. That would give him a Grade 1, a Grade 2, and a Grade 3 win (Hollywood Futurity, Del Mar Futurity, Prevue). That's more than Wilko accomplished. Suppose Proud Accolade ships west and wins the Futurity. That would give him two Grade 1 wins (Champagne, Hollywood Futurity). In other words, this is far from a done deal.

Turf: Sentiment certainly seems to be falling on the side of Kitten's Joy as champion turf horse, but don't get carried away. Remember, in their only head-to-head meeting, Better Talk Now beat Kitten's Joy. I don't care about excuses - Better Talk Now beat Kitten's Joy. And if you're looking at success over the entire season, remember Better Talk Now won two Grade 1 races (BC Turf, Sword Dancer) while Kitten's Joy also won two (Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Secretariat), but one of those, the Secretariat, came against 3-year-olds. Better Talk Now's trainer, Graham Motion, said he may run in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 4. If Better Talk Now wins it, doesn't he hold the better hand?

Horse of the Year: Finally, I have no problem with those who say Smarty Jones had the biggest influence on horse racing. I have no problem with the Chapmans retiring Smarty Jones after he was injured.

What I do have a problem with is that Smarty Jones, brilliant as he might have been, faced only 3-year-olds. Ghostzapper, meanwhile, proved the best of the division, won at different distances and won on racing's biggest day. As much as I liked Smarty I can't envision a scenario that has him beating Ghostzapper save for a headstart. My vote for Ghostzapper has nothing to do with Smarty's early retirement - it has everything to do with the notion that Ghostzapper, while not seen often, was a fantastic animal with few peers over the past few seasons. And to me that all adds up to Horse of the Year.