02/06/2009 12:00AM

Three sprinters vie for 2008 top statebred

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The 2008 California-bred horse of the year will be a sprinter.

The three finalists - Bob Black Jack, Cost of Freedom, and Lethal Heat - excelled in sprints in 2008, though Lethal Heat was also a graded stakes winner at 1 1/16 miles.

Those three horses accounted for half of the eight division titles recently announced by the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association. The winner of the horse of the year title will be announced at the association's annual dinner in Newport Beach, Calif., on Feb. 17.

Bob Black Jack is perhaps the leading contender for the title, having won two division titles in 2008 - champion 3-year-old male and champion sprinter. Cost of Freedom was named top older horse, while Lethal Heat was leading 3-year-old filly.

Other champions were Babs Moossa, 2-year-old male; Saucey Evening, 2-year-old filly; Nashoba's Key, older female; and Bold Chieftain, turf horse.

Of the three horse of the year finalists, only Lethal Heat is in training. Bred by David Abrams, Madeline Auerbach, and Tom Roberts and owned by Auerbach, Ron McCauley, and trainer Barry Abrams, Lethal Heat is being pointed for the $125,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for statebred females on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on March 15, Barry Abrams said.

A winner of 6 of 10 starts and $438,528, Lethal Heat won four stakes in 2008, including the Grade 3 Santa Paula Stakes for turf sprinters at Santa Anita in March and the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks over 1 1/16 miles in June.

At Del Mar, Lethal Heat won two stakes for statebred 3-year-olds over seven furlongs - the Fleet Treat against fillies and the Real Good Deal against males. She was later third in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks.

"She's got a big year ahead of her," Abrams said on Friday. "She's a very good horse and has done everything. I know she didn't win the Del Mar Oaks. She got a little tired. It's not an excuse."

Abrams said he hopes that Lethal Heat can start in a Breeders' Cup race at Santa Anita in November.

The two male finalists for horse of the year - Bob Black Jack and Cost of Freedom - may return to racing in the second half of 2009.

Bob Black Jack was turned out last month with a leg injury shortly after winning the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. Trainer Jim Kasparoff declined to state the nature of the injury earlier this week but said he is hopeful that Bob Black Jack could resume training at the end of the summer.

Bob Black Jack, by Stormy Jack, holds the world record at six furlongs of 1:06.53, set in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita in January 2008. Bred by Gary Howard, Marlene Howard, and Bruce Dunmore and owned by Jeff Harmon and Tim Kasparoff, Bob Black Jack has won 4 of 10 starts and $594,925.

Cost of Freedom, a 6-year-old gelding by Cee's Tizzy, was taken out of training last month after he failed a veterinary exam for soundness. Cost of Freedom won the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes in September, but did not start in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in October or the Vernon Underwood Stakes in November after failing pre-race soundness examinations.

Trainer John Sadler and owners Gary and Cecil Barber decided in January to turn out Cost of Freedom with the intent of bringing him back later this year. Cost of Freedom was claimed by his current connections for $50,000 from breeder Harris Farms last July.