01/15/2011 11:14AM

Tension rises as Eclipse Awards approach

DRF illustration

The most anticipated Horse of the Year announcement in 26 years highlights the 40th annual Eclipse Awards dinner, to be held Monday night at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel in Florida.

Will it be Blame, the nation’s leading older horse, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic against a star-studded field featuring all the leading contenders for Horse of the Year? Or will it be Zenyatta, the wildly popular mare who had won all five of her starts in 2010, running her record to 19-0, before Blame held her off in the Classic?

The announcement, to be made by Alex Waldrop, the president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, is expected to come between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Eastern at the end of what promises to be a marathon evening. More than 500 people are expected to attend the black-tie dinner.

Blame and Zenyatta, finalists for Horse of the Year along with Goldikova, will be the focal points of the evening. Claiborne Farm – which, in partnership with Adele Dilschneider, bred and owns Blame – will be presented with an Eclipse Award of Merit. Zenyatta’s connections, headed by owners Jerry and Ann Moss, will be presented with a Special Eclipse Award. Blame’s victory over Zenyatta in the BC Classic will be cited as the NTRA’s “Moment of the Year.” The owners of Blame and Zenyatta are among the three finalists for champion owner, and Blame’s breeders are a finalist in that category, too. John Shirreffs, the trainer of Zenyatta, is a finalist among his brethren, and Garrett Gomez, the jockey of Blame, is a finalist in his category. Plus, both Blame, as champion older male, and Zenyatta, as champion older female, are cinches to win divisional honors.

Another Eclipse Award of Merit will go to Marylou Whitney. The winner of last year’s Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship will be cited. The breeders of all Breeders’ Cup race winners will be acknowledged. This in addition to the divisional winners of all Eclipse Awards for humans and horses, plus a presentation to all Eclipse Award-winning media members.

The dinner begins at 6 p.m., and awards are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., with Kenny Rice, best known as part of the NBC-Sports racing team, emceeing for the fourth straight year. TVG will report live on the Eclipse Awards, beginning at 6 p.m.

There was keen interest in last year’s Horse of the Year balloting, which boiled down to Rachel Alexandra vs. Zenyatta, though Rachel Alexandra was the acknowledged favorite. This year’s result is seen as a toss-up.

Zenyatta has finished second in Horse of the Year balloting the past two years.

“If there’s a fairness doctrine, she deserves it,” Jerry Moss said.

Al Stall Jr., the trainer of Blame, said, “We feel he would be deserving as long as he produced on the racetrack, and we feel he did that.”

The envelope, please.