01/17/2011 11:47PM

Zenyatta takes Horse of the Year over Blame

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MIAMI, Fla. -- The wildly popular mare Zenyatta won the final race of her career, outpolling Blame when named Monday night as the 2010 Horse of the Year after finishing second for Horse of the Year the two previous years.

A majority of the crowd of more than 500 at the black-tie Eclipse Awards dinner here in a ballroom at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel erupted with cheers when Alex Waldrop, the president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, opened the envelope and announced Zenyatta’s name at the end of a marathon, 2 1/2-hour awards presentation.

“This is overwhelming,” said Jerry Moss, who co-owns Zenyatta with his wife, Ann. Moss then graciously acknowledged the other two finalists, Blame and Goldikova.

The connections of Blame -- notably trainer Al Stall Jr., and Seth Hancock of co-owner Claiborne Farm -- had steeled themselves for this moment. Though Blame had won his only head-to-head meeting with Zenyatta, the popularity of Zenyatta proved an insurmountable force.

ECLIPSE AWARDS: List of winners, vote totals, and video clips from the ceremony

Zenyatta won 19 straight races, including five this year, before suffering the only loss of her racing career when finishing second to Blame in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame too would have been a worthy choice as Horse of the Year. Besides winning the biggest race of the year for older horses against Zenyatta, he also captured the Whitney and Stephen Foster.

Of the 251 eligible voters, 238 returned ballots. Zenyatta received 128 first-place votes to 102 for Blame from voters representing Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, and the NTRA, whose bloc includes racing secretaries and employees of Equibase. Goldikova, the French mare who won the BC Mile for an unprecedented third straight year, finished third with 5 votes. Three voters did not denote a Horse of the Year choice.

Though all votes are pooled, it was notable how the different blocs cast their ballots.

The NTWAB, which has the most voters, went for Zenyatta over Blame by 71-49, with 2 votes for Goldikova. The NTRA preferred Zenyatta over Blame by a surprisingly wide percentage, 36-15, with Goldikova receiving a single vote. But Daily Racing Form tilted toward Blame by 38-21 over Zenyatta, with 2 votes going to Goldikova.

Zenyatta, Blame, and Goldikova were overwhelming winners of their respective divisions when those awards were announced earlier in the evening at the 40th annual Eclipse Awards dinner. Other highlights included Lookin At Lucky becoming the first male horse in more than 30 years to win Eclipse Awards at ages 2 and 3, Gio Ponti -- like Goldikova -- winning a turf title for the second straight year, and jockey Ramon Dominguez being named to his first year-end championship.

MORE: In head-to-head battle at the ballot box, Blame comes up short

Zenyatta failed by one vote of being a unanimous choice as champion older female, a title she won for the third consecutive year. A single vote in that division, coming from the DRF bloc, was cast for Goldikova.

Blame was a unanimous choice as champion older male, garnering all 238 votes.

Goldikova received 212 votes for champion female turf horse, and Gio Ponti, second to Goldikova in the BC Mile, was cited by 199 voters for champion male turf horse. Both those horses have remained in training in 2011 and will be seeking their third consecutive divisional Eclipse Awards.

Lookin At Lucky, whose biggest wins in 2010 came in the Preakness Stakes and Haskell Invitational, was a runaway winner as champion 3-year-old male, receiving 224 votes. Last year, he was the champion 2-year-old male. He becomes the first horse to win those titles since Spectacular Bid in 1978-79. This Eclipse Award represents the 13th won by a horse trained by Bob Baffert.

Dominguez, based in New York, led his brethren in purse earnings during the year, and that carried him to his first Eclipse Award, even though he did not win a Triple Crown race nor a Breeders’ Cup race. He was the regular rider of one champion horse, Gio Ponti. Dominguez received 124 votes, more than twice as many as runner-up Garrett Gomez, the rider of Blame.

Other Eclipse Award winners were Uncle Mo (2-year-old male), Awesome Feather (2-year-old filly), Blind Luck (3-year-old filly), Big Drama (male sprinter), Dubai Majesty (female sprinter), Slip Away (steeplechase horse), Todd Pletcher (trainer), Omar Moreno (apprentice jockey), the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt (owner), and Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs (breeder).

Besides Horse of the Year, the other equine category perceived as a toss-up Monday night was champion sprinter. Big Drama, the BC Sprint winner, ended up winning easily, garnering 170 votes. Majesticperfection, who beat Big Drama in their only head-to-head meeting but missed the Breeders’ Cup with a career-ending injury, was a distant second with 61 votes.

Two of the closest results among humans came for breeder and owner.

Stronach’s Adena Springs won the breeding title, even though the operation produced zero champions. But what Adena Springs lacked in champions it made up for in scope. It had more starters, more winners, and more earnings than any other breeder in North America in 2010. In a category in which 11 entities received first-place votes, Adena Springs triumphed with 69 votes, 14 more than Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, the breeders of Blame.

Casner and Troutt have since split as co-owners of WinStar, but they had a terrific 2010, winning the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver and the Belmont Stakes with Drosselmeyer. They also led the nation’s owners in purse earnings. As a result, they won that division’s Eclipse Award, garnering 100 votes, 19 more than the Mosses. Thirteen owners received at least one first-place vote.

The remaining champions won in a romp.

Kentucky Oaks heroine Blind Luck, like Zenyatta, had one stubborn voter stand between her and being a unanimous choice as a divisional winner. She received 237 votes as champion 3-year-old filly to 1 for No Such Word, that vote coming from the NTRA bloc.

Uncle Mo, the unbeaten winner of the BC Juvenile, received 236 votes to 1 each for Boys at Tosconova, the BC Juvenile runner-up, and Pluck, who won the BC Juvenile Turf. Uncle Mo’s Eclipse Award is the 10th won by a horse trained by Pletcher.

Pletcher in 2010 led the nation in purse earnings, got his first victory in the Kentucky Derby, and won three Breeders’ Cup races, all of which propelled him to an easy victory as champion trainer, his fifth in that category, following titles from 2004-2007. Pletcher received 168 votes. John Shirreffs, the trainer of Zenyatta, was second with 28 votes. Pletcher’s five Eclipse Awards ties him for the all-time lead with the late Bobby Frankel.

Awesome Feather, the unbeaten winner of the BC Juvenile Fillies, was an overwhelming choice as champion 2-year-old filly, receiving 235 votes out of the 238 cast. Dubai Majesty also won handily, receiving 232 votes for champion female sprinter after capturing the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.

Moreno, the Canadian jockey who won more races and more money than any first-year rider, got 197 votes to easily win as champion apprentice, and Slip Away, the Colonial Cup winner, received 175 votes as champion steeplechase horse.

Also Monday night, Eclipse Awards of Merit were bestowed upon Claiborne Farm, and Marylou Whitney, and a Special Eclipse Award was presented to Team Zenyatta. Those awards were previously announced, as were the media winners, Michael Clevenger (photography), Wright Thompson (feature writing), Bill Finley (news writing), ESPN (live television), HRTV (television feature), and Horse Racing Radio Network (audio).