Here's a vote for Azeri, others as 2002's leaders of the pack


Horse Racing

January 05, 2003|By Tom Keyser

Before racing focuses on 2003 it will honor its champions of 2002 at the 32nd Eclipse awards dinner Jan. 27 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Ballots for the awards were due Tuesday, the final day of 2002.

Turf writers, racing secretaries and specified employees of the Daily Racing Form vote. Here's how one ballot - mine - looked:

Storm Flag Flying as champion 2-year-old filly. She won all four of her races, and three were Grade I stakes. Her comeback in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies was perhaps racing's jaw-dropping moment of the year.

Toccet as champion 2-year-old male. Granted, Vindication beat him by 16 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. That was not only Vindication's lone Grade I victory, but it also was his final race of the year.

Since that Oct. 26 afternoon, the Laurel-based Toccet won the Grade III Laurel Futurity at Laurel Park and the Grade II Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Then, he traveled across the country and won the Grade I Hollywood Futurity, beating California horses in their back yard at Hollywood Park.

Vindication, the popular son of Seattle Slew, was 4-for-4 with two graded-stakes victories (one Grade I, one Grade III). Toccet was 6-for-8 with four graded-stakes victories (two Grade Is, one Grade II and one Grade III).

We criticize trainers and owners for not racing their horses enough. Toccet kept racing - and winning.

Also, I believe the Breeders' Cup is weighted too heavily in Eclipse voting. If racing wants the Breeders' Cup to be, literally, the "world thoroughbred championships," then it should do away with Eclipse award voting and crown each Breeders' Cup winner champion.

Farda Amiga as champion 3-year-old filly. She won the two most significant races for 3-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama, and then finished second to 4-year-old Azeri in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

War Emblem as champion 3-year-old male. The Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner faltered in the second half of the year, but no other 3-year-old rose up to dethrone him. Came Home came closest by beating older horses in the Pacific Classic.

Azeri as champion older female. See below.

Left Bank as champion older male. He raced only four times but won three. He broke an 8-year-old track record for seven furlongs in winning the Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont, and he tied a 28-year-old track record for 1 1/8 miles in winning the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Left Bank died in October from complications following colic surgery.

Golden Apples as champion turf female. She earned slight favor in an evenly matched division.

With Anticipation as champion turf male. High Chaparral beat him by 1 1/4 lengths in the Breeders' Cup Turf, but that was High Chaparral's only race in North America. With Anticipation, the nearly white 7-year-old, raced from March to October, winning three Grade I stakes and finishing second in two others.

Orientate as champion sprinter. He won all six of his sprints on dirt, including the Breeders' Cup Sprint from a disadvantageous outside post position.

Flat Top as champion steeplechaser. A 6 1/4 -length win in the season-ending Grade I Colonial Cup separated this 9-year-old from a pack of contenders.

Jerry Bailey as outstanding jockey and Bobby Frankel as outstanding trainer. The Thoroughbred Corp. as outstanding owner and Juddmonte Farms as outstanding breeder. I would have preferred voting for the little guy, but how can you deny these powerhouses?

Ryan Fogelsonger as outstanding apprentice jockey. The 21-year-old Marylander led apprentices in wins (266), earnings ($4.5 million) and win percentage (22 percent). Since July 1, he won 243 races, the most of any jockey in the country.

Azeri as Horse of the Year. She was sensational, winning eight of nine races, including five Grade I stakes. Her five-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff was dazzling. Azeri never raced against males, but no male came close to matching her record.

Southern strategy

Toccet is getting a break after his impressive win two weeks ago in the Hollywood Futurity. The prominent resident of Laurel Park is one of the top three contenders for the Kentucky Derby, along with Sky Mesa and Vindication.

John Scanlan, Toccet's trainer, had been concerned about Toccet's running on a fast racetrack, but after the victory at Hollywood Park Scanlan says: "It looks to me like he'll handle anything."

Therefore, Scanlan says, Toccet will take the Florida route to the spring classics: Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, and then the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

"I'm giving him a couple of weeks off now," Scanlan says, "not because he needs it, but because I need it. He's a monster. This horse likes his job."

On the mend

Magic Weisner returned Wednesday to his stall at Laurel after nearly two months at John Salzman's farm in Carroll County. Trainer Nancy Alberts sent her gelding to the farm so he could build up his strength after his frightening bout with West Nile virus.

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