Two horses who never met on the track are locked in a battle for Horse of the Year. Although finalists for the Eclipse Awards were announced yesterday, fans will have to wait until Jan. 24 to find out which horse - Ghostzapper or Smarty Jones - will win racing's most prestigious prize.
That's when the black-tie dinner and Eclipse Award presentations will take place in Beverly Hills, Calif. The winners will emerge from the three finalists in 15 equine and human categories.
No finalists were announced for Horse of the Year, but it's a foregone conclusion that Smarty Jones, shoo-in as champion 3-year-old, and Ghostzapper, shoo-in as champion older horse, are the only contenders.
The first half of the year belonged to Smarty Jones, who won six straight races, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, before finishing second in the Belmont. He was retired shortly after that.
The second half of the year belonged to Ghostzapper, who capped his undefeated season (4-for-4) with a powerful victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Declan's Moon, a Maryland-bred based in California, is the favorite to win the Eclipse as outstanding 2-year-old male. He completed his 4-for-4 season with a win in the Grade I Hollywood Futurity.
Michael Gill, whose horses win more races in Maryland than anyone else, and Frank Stronach, who owns the tracks (Pimlico and Laurel Park) at which Gill's horses race, are finalists for top owner. Stronach is also a finalist as outstanding breeder. He bred and raced Ghostzapper, among others.
Eclipse Awards finalists
2-year-old female: Balletto, Runway Model, Sweet Catomine.
2-year-old male: Afleet Alex, Declan's Moon, Wilko.
3-year-old female: Ashado, Ouija Board, Stellar Jayne.
3-year-old male: Birdstone, Kitten's Joy, Smarty Jones.
Older female: Azeri, Sightseek, Storm Flag Flying.
Older male: Ghostzapper, Pleasantly Perfect, Roses in May.
Sprinter: Ghostzapper, Pico Central, Speightstown.
Female turf horse: Intercontinental, Ouija Board, Ticker Tape.
Male turf horse: Better Talk Now, Kitten's Joy, Singletary.
Steeplechaser: Hirapour, McDynamo, Preemptive Strike.
Owner: Michael Gill, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, Stronach Stables.
Breeder: Adena Springs/Stronach entities, John Franks, Juddmonte Farms.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bobby Frankel, Todd Pletcher.
Apprentice jockey: Pablo Fragoso, Brian Hernandez Jr., Angel Quinones.
NOTE: Finalists were determined by voters in three groups: National Turf Writers Association, racing secretaries at National Thoroughbred Racing Association tracks, and employees of Equibase and Daily Racing Form.