Florida horses in running for Eclipse Awards

Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 6:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 6:48 p.m.

Jeanne Mayberry didn't have any doubts about the filly Zenyatta beating a field of the best male horses in the world during November' Breeders Cup Classic.

The Ocala woman had broken and given the Street Cry mare her early training at her Marion County farm before the filly was handed to trainer John Shirreffs.

But that race was horse against horse.

Now, it will be up to human voters to decide weather the winner of 14 straight races should be Horse of the Year after Zenyatta was nominated Wednesday for the Eclipse Award, along with another top filly, Rachel Alexandra.

Nominees for the 39th Eclipse Awards were announced by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, National Turf Writers Association and Daily Racing Form, the three presenting organizations. The results will be announced Jan. 18.

The winner of the top award is a toss up because Rachel Alexandra, now 4 years old, and Zenyatta, now 6, never raced each other.

Rachel Alexandra's owner, Jess Jackson, decided not to race his Medaglia d'Oro filly in the Breeders Cup Classic held last year on Santa Anita's synthetic track in California.

"But that's what the Breeders' Cup is designed for, to see who's the best. Rachel Alexandra didn't show up," said the 66-year-old Mayberry. "If you want to be Horse of the Year, you have to show up for it."

Zenyatta is the only filly or mare to have won the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

But Rachel Alexandra is no slouch, winning her last nine races and trouncing the best females in the country and the boys in three tough races: the Preakness Stakes, the Haskell and Woodward Stakes, where she was the only female to ever win.

Jubenal Diaz, who broke and trained this year's Eclipse 2-year-old filly nominee Blind Luck, said he thinks Rachel Alexandra is the better horse.

"The Breeders' Cup was Zenyatta's best race, but it's only one race and Zenyatta (who raced mostly in California) did it on her own synthetic track," Diaz said. "Zenyatta's been in just average races against light horses. Rachel Alexandra won four key races this year."

Rachel Alexandra also was nominated for Three-Year-Old Filly and Zenyatta for best Older Female.

Blind Luck is pitted against nominees Hot Dixie Chick and She Be Wild. After coming in third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies despite a rough trip, Blind Luck redemmed herself with a win in the Hollywood Starlet at Hollywood Park.

She Be Wild also was broken and trained by Mayberry, and won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but hasn't raced since.

Another Ocala-connected horse and Eclipse nominee is Music Note, in two categories: Female Sprinter and Older Female. She came in third in the Breeders' Ladies Classic. Ocala-based David Scanlon, who broke and gave early training to Music Note, said she's got a chance, but is up against tough competition.

The Eclipse Awards ceremony will be held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

In addition to Horse of the Year, Florida also is well represented in the race for top 3-year-old male. Summer Bird, bred by Drs. K. K. and Vilasini Jayaraman. won the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the Triple Crown in June, and two other Grade 1 races.

The Jayaramans own Ocala's Tiffany Farm, and are also the colt's owners.

"We are very happy that he is one of the finalists and hope he will be made champion," said K.K. Jayaraman. "I think he should be the one, but I am biased. He won an American classic and overall three Grade 1 races this year."

Summer Bird also won the Travers Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He dueled with Rachel Alexandra, finishing second to the filly in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park. He has earned more than $2.3 million in his career.

The colt, by stallion Birdstone, suffered an ankle fracture in Japan late in 2009. He underwent surgery and is expected to make his return to the track by March.

"He is doing fine," Jayaraman said. "Everything is healed up and he is one his way." If Summer Bird wins, it would be the first Eclipse for the Jayaraman's.

"It would be a great honor to get it," he said. "It's something that everyone would like to win."

Summer Bird's competition includes fellow Birdstone sibling, Mine That Bird. The gelding was an upset winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby. Also, Quality Road, who won the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in 2009.

The only Florida-bred vying for an Eclipse is Presious Passion. The 6-year-old gelding was bred by Joseph and Helen Barbazon at their Pleasant Acres Farm in Morriston. The gelding has made a name for himself, not just because of his consistent performance in big races, but also his unique running style. He routinely gives it his all from start to finish, opening ridiculous leads and trying to hold on at the end.

He won the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes and the Clement L. Hirsch Turf Championship Stakes, as well as the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes. He finished second in the Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) in October.

He competes for older male horse honors against Einstein and Gio Ponti. An Eclipse would be the first for a horse bred by the Barbazons.

The Eclipse Awards finalists are:

Horse of the Year: Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta

Two-Year-Old Male: Lookin At Lucky, Noble's Promise, Vale of York (IRE)

Two-Year-Old Filly: Blind Luck, Hot Dixie Chick, She Be Wild

Three-Year-Old Male: Mine That Bird, Quality Road, Summer Bird

Three-Year-Old Filly: Careless Jewel, Flashing, Rachel Alexandra

Older Male: Einstein (BRZ), Gio Ponti, Kodiak Kowboy

Older Female: Life Is Sweet, Music Note, Zenyatta

Male Sprinter: Dancing in Silks, Kodiak Kowboy, Zensational

Female Sprinter: Informed Decision, Music Note, Ventura

Male Turf Horse: Conduit (IRE), Gio Ponti, Presious Passion

Female Turf Horse: Goldikova (IRE), Midday (GB), Ventura

Steeplechase Horse: Mixed Up, Red Letter Day, Spy in the Sky

Owner: Godolphin Racing, Juddmonte Farms, Jerry and Ann Moss

Breeder: Adena Springs, Juddmonte Farms, Dolphus C. Morrison

Trainer: Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, John Shirreffs

Jockey: Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, Julien Leparoux

Apprentice Jockey: Luis Batista, Christian Santiago Reyes, Luis Saez

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