12/31/2004 12:00AM

A Who's Who of 2004 Grade 1's


NEW YORK - The La Brea at Santa Anita last Monday, won by Alphabet Kisses, was the 100th and last Grade 1 race of the year in the United States. An accounting of the year's 100 top-ranked races yields some unexpected leaders, different in many cases from both the national leaderboards and the likely Eclipse Award winners.

Alphabet Kisses was one of 81 different horses who captured a Grade 1 in 2004 and one of 66 who won only one. Fifteen horses were multiple Grade 1 winners, led by a quartet that captured three apiece: Ashado, Azeri, Pico Central, and Sightseek. Of those, Ashado and Azeri are likely divisional champions, while Pico Central is only even-money for the sprint title and Sightseek is destined to run second to Azeri again.

Eleven other horses won two Grade 1's each, including Ghostzapper and Smarty Jones, both of whom will be Eclipse champions and one of whom will be Horse of the Year. Kitten's Joy and Sweet Catomine are also likely champions who won two each. The seven other dual Grade 1 winners were Better Talk Now, Birdstone, Society Selection, Southern Image, Star Parade, Stellar Jayne, and Ticker Tape.

The jockey and trainer standings look quite different from a year ago, when Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey set astounding records with 25 and 26 Grade 1 victories, respectively.

Frankel topped the leaderboard again but with "only" 12, and with a different running style over the course of the season. In 2003, Frankel had 19 Grade 1 wins by Aug. 31 and six for the rest of the year. In 2004, he had just three by Aug. 31, then won nine in the next 90 days. In addition to Sightseek's three and Ghostzapper's two, Frankel won Grade 1's with Intercontinental, Leroidesanimaux, Light Jig, Midas Eyes, Nothing to Lose, Medaglia d'Oro, and Peace Rules. (He also won the E.P. Taylor at Woodbine with Commercante, but Canadian Grade 1's are not part of the official 100.)

D. Wayne Lukas and his former assistant Todd Pletcher were next with six Grade 1's apiece. Azeri and Ashado accounted for half of each of their totals. Lukas added two with Stellar Jayne and one with Consolidator, while Pletcher also scored with Lion Tamer, Proud Accolade, and Speightstown.

Once could argue that Frankel is entitled to a fourth straight training Eclipse, having trained Ghostzapper and having won twice as many Grade 1's as anyone else, including likely Eclipse winner Pletcher. That's the problem with success: Plenty of voters feel as if he had an off year for winning only half as many Grade 1's as he did in 2003.

The top five was rounded out by two trainers who each had four different Grade 1 winners. Julio Canani won five Grade 1's with dual winner Sweet Catomine and single winners Amorama, Silent Sighs, and Special Ring. Patrick Biancone won one apiece with Lion Heart, Magistretti, Pomeroy, and Sense of Style.

Frankel, Lukas, Pletcher, Canani, and Biancone accounted for 33 of the year's 100 Grade 1 winners. Five other trainers won three each, meaning that a total of only 10 trainers won 48 percent of the Grade 1's. The three-time winners were Craig Dollase, Paulo Lobo, Richard Mandella, Dale Romans, and Nick Zito. Another 10 trainers won two apiece: Bob Baffert, James Cassidy, Neil Drysdale, Allen Jerkens, Mike Machowsky, Shug McGaughey, Mike Mitchell, Graham Motion, John Servis, and Darrell Vienna. So 20 trainers accounted for 68 percent of the Grade 1's.

The top jockeys had things even more sewn up, with the 21 riders who won more than a single Grade 1 accumulating 90 of the year's 100. Just four of them combined for 38 of the 100: Edgar Prado with 11, and Jerry Bailey, Victor Espinoza, and John Velazquez with nine apiece. They were followed by Kent Desormeaux with six, Mike Smith with five, Alex Solis with four, and nine riders with three apiece: Robby Albarado, Tyler Baze, Javier Castellano, Pat Day, Ramon Dominguez, Stewart Elliott, David Flores, Corey Nakatani, and Jose Santos. Five others (Rafael Bejarano, Frankie Dettori, Gary Stevens, Jose Valdivia, and Cornelio Velasquez) each won a pair of Grade 1's and 10 others had a single such triumph.

Prado had the streakiest run. He won 8 of his 11 Grade 1's in the brief stretch from July 31 through Sept. 18, then was blanked for the rest of the year, but no one could overtake him in the course of the year's final 31 Grade 1's.

The race begins anew Jan. 30 at Santa Anita with the Santa Monica Handicap, the first of the 100 Grade 1 races scheduled for 2005.