HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Black Tie Affair, who closed his 1991 racing season and his career with six straight victories at six different tracks, won perhaps the most important contest of his life yesterday when he won the Eclipse Award as the Horse of the Year.
The 5-year-old traveler, bred in Ireland, owned by Jeffrey Sullivan and trained by Ernie Poulos, won horse racing's highest honor in a three-way struggle with international overtones: He outpolled Arazi, the brilliant juvenile who raced sensationally in France last year, and Dance Smartly, the Canadian filly who won all eight of her races.
But the two losers for the ultimate award won major comfort. Arazi, already the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, was named the champion 2-year-old colt. And Dance Smartly, who set a North American record by winning $2.8 million last year, was named champion 3-year-old filly.
Poulos, who always wore a black bow tie to the races to salute his star horse, said Saturday that he had wanted to keep racing Black Tie Affair after they won the Breeders' Cup Classic last Nov. 2. But he added: "Mr. Sullivan wanted to retire him, and I think he was right. But I'm also retiring my black bow tie."
Champions were crowned in 10 divisions of the Eclipse Awards, which are the Academy Awards of the racing business and which carry long-term rewards in breeding status.
The votes are cast in three blocks by members of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, the National Turf Writers Association and the Daily Racing Form. The winners were announced at the annual TRA convention is Las Vegas, Nev., and were carried by closed-circuit television to race tracks round the country, including Gulfstream Park here just before the Donn Handicap, the year's inaugural race for senior stars.
The Eclipse Awards are customarily accompanied by intrigue because few horses dominate an entire year of racing, or even an entire division, and the intrigue is not always dispelled by milestone victories in the Kentucky Derby or the Breeders' Cup.
It was true last year when Frances Genter's Unbridled won the Florida Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic, then won the Eclipse Award as the best 3-year-old colt of 1990.
But he still lost the premier award, Horse of the Year, to Calumet Farm's Criminal Type.
The electoral strands were just as tangled this year. Arazi was bred in Kentucky but then headed to France, where he won six straight after losing by a head in his first start. So he was already an international star when he made his debut in the United States last Nov. 2 in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. And it was a memorable debut.
Racing on dirt for the first time, racing counterclockwise for the first time, he blazed from 14th and last place into first place with an astounding show of speed and won by five lengths. He was acclaimed as the next winner of the Kentucky Derby and even as the next Secretariat. And he left little doubt that he was at least the next juvenile champion.
Horse of year: Black Tie Affair
3-year-old colt: Hansel
3-year-old filly: Dance Smartly
2-year-old colt: Arazi
2-year-old filly: Pleasant Stage
Steeplechase: Morley Street
Older filly-mare: Queena
Turf: Tight Spot
Turf filly-mare: Miss Alleged
Owner: Sam-Son Farms
Trainer: Ron McAnally
Jockey: Pat Day
Apprentice jockey: Mickey Walls
Breeder: John and Betty Mabee