Eclipse Award ballots for 1990 have been marked and returned, and though there are the usual number of cinches, there could be a surprise or two when the results are announced Feb. 9.
For the first time in the 20-year history of the awards, Eclipse winners will not be known until the day of the awards dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas probably will be represented by his first Horse of the Year with Criminal Type. Some voters said Unbridled, winner of the year's two biggest races -- the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic -- could have made it a tight race for the honor if only he had won one more race of significance, such as the Preakness, Belmont Stakes or even the Super Derby. But he failed in those, and Criminal Type's 7-for-11 record betters Unbridled's for overall strength and consistency.
Unbridled, however, will be named top 3-year-old. Other sure winners are Fly So Free, Meadow Star, Go For Wand and Bayakoa.
The races for turf male and female appear to be much tighter. Among the boys, four are legitimate choices: Golden Pheasant, With Approval, Itsallgreektome or In The Wings. Among the females, Petite Ile may have a slight edge over several others.
For top sprinter, Housebuster probably will get the nod over Maryland-bred mare Safely Kept, denying her a second straight award.
What can complicate voters' decisions is whether a horse raced often enough in the United States. For example, In The Wings won the Breeders' Cup Turf, but that was his only start in this country. Does one start suffice for an award? In isolated cases in previous votings, it has.
In categories involving the human element, Frances Genter probably will be named top owner and Maryland's Mark Johnston has a lock on top apprentice rider.
Top trainer and jockey could be close. Lukas led in earnings for the eighth straight year, but his $14 million-plus total fell far short of his stated goal of $20 million. Carl Nafzger seems the favorite in this category, with Ron McAnally a top upset candidate.
Jockey Craig Perret had a career year while tying the record for stakes victories (57), and sentiment seems on his side over leading earner Gary Stevens.
Voting is done by employees of the Daily Racing Form, members of the National Turf Writers' Association and racing secretaries at tracks throughout North America.
* Although Itsallgreektome was the favorite in the $500,000 Hollywood Turf Cup at Hollywood Park last month, there was some question whether he could handle the 1 1/2 -mile distance.
As Itsallgreektome crossed the finish line in front, track announcer Michael Wrona answered that question.
"Can he stay the mile and a half?" Wrona asked before quickly adding: "He stays like a mother-in-law!"
Vince Bracciale Jr., who retired Jan. 4, 1990, after riding 3,545 winners, has been named to the advisory board of the Jockeys' Guild. Only two other jockeys -- Hall of Famers Eddie Arcaro and Bill Shoemaker -- have served on the panel, which now has seven members.
Bracciale, 37, spends his mornings exercising horses at the Bowie training center. He said he has eight 2-year-olds to train this year.
"I'll probably be taking my test for a trainer's license soon," he said. "With a couple others, I might have 10, maybe 12, later on this year."