Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta had shorter coattails than one might have imagined when the finalists for Eclipse Awards were announced on Wednesday by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
Although both Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta - the only horses to receive votes for Horse of the Year, according to the NTRA - were also announced as obvious finalists in their respective divisions, and their trainers are two of the three finalists in that category, only one of their owners made the cut, just one breeder, and neither jockey.
Jess Jackson, who purchased a majority interest in Rachel Alexandra following her victory in the Kentucky Oaks, was not among the three finalists for champion owner. But Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners of Zenyatta, are finalists, along with Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing and the Juddmonte Farms of Saudi Arabia's Prince Khalid Abdullah.
By contrast, Dolphus Morrison, who bred Rachel Alexandra, is a finalist for champion breeder, along with Frank Stronach's Adena Springs and Juddmonte. But Zenyatta's breeder, Maverick Productions Ltd., did not finish in the top three.
Neither Calvin Borel, the regular rider for Rachel Alexandra, nor Mike Smith, Zenyatta's jockey, are among the finalists for champion jockey. Ramon Dominguez, Garrett Gomez, and Julien Leparoux will vie for that crown.
Both Steve Asmussen, who guided Rachel Alexandra's career after her purchase by Jackson, and John Shirreffs, who steered Zenyatta through an unbeaten career, are finalists for champion trainer, along with Bob Baffert. Asmussen, the defending champion, set a single-season record for victories in 2009 with 650. Not making the top three was Jonathan Sheppard, who has two horses - Informed Decision and Mixed Up - favored to win Eclipse Awards.
The finalists were determined by votes cast by members of the National Turf Writers Association, Daily Racing Form, and the NTRA, whose bloc includes racing secretaries at tracks across the country, as well as employees of Equibase. All the votes are pooled, and the top three finishers are announced in each division.
Voters select the top three in each division, but only the first-place votes determine the winners. The second- and third-place votes are used solely to determine the other finalists. For Horse of the Year, voters could only make one selection, not list a top three. There was a total of 232 voters.
The deadline for voting was Monday, and the finalists were announced 48 hours later. All the winners will be revealed at the 39th annual Eclipse Awards dinner on Jan. 18 at the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
The snubs of both Jackson and Borel were particularly surprising. Jackson could conceivably own the Horse of the Year for the third straight year, following Curlin in 2007-08. Yet he was not a finalist for owner in 2007, and finished a distant third last year.
Borel, in addition to riding Rachel Alexandra to her undefeated campaign in 2009, also won the Kentucky Derby with Mine That Bird.
Mine That Bird is a finalist for champion 3-year-old male, but both he and finalist Quality Road are decided underdogs to Summer Bird, who won the Belmont, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Rachel Alexandra's fellow finalists for champion 3-year-old filly are Careless Jewel and Flashing, though it's hard to imagine any horse other than Rachel Alexandra - whose wins included the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward - obtaining a first-place vote in this category.
Likewise, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Zenyatta, the Breeders' Cup Classic winner, receiving a first-place vote for champion older female. But since three finalists are announced in each division, Life Is Sweet - a Shirreffs-trained stablemate of Zenyatta who won the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic - and Music Note were acknowledged as the other finalists.
Music Note is one of four horses who were named as finalists in two divisions. She is also a finalist for champion female sprinter along with Informed Decision, who won that division's Breeders' Cup race and is the favorite to win the corresponding Eclipse Award, and Ventura.
The brilliant, versatile Ventura is also a finalist for champion female turf horse, where she is up against Breeders' Cup race winners Goldikova and Midday. Not making the top three was Magical Fantasy, who won three Grade 1 races in California last year.
Gio Ponti, who won four Grade 1 races on turf and then was second to Zenyatta in the BC Classic, is a finalist for both champion turf male and champion older male. Conduit and Presious Passion, the one-two finishers in the Breeders' Cup Turf, are the other finalists for champion turf male. The other finalists for older male are Einstein and Kodiak Kowboy.
Kodiak Kowboy is also a finalist for champion male sprinter, along with the California-based pair of Dancing in Silks, the Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, and Zensational. Not making the cut were Fabulous Strike - who faced Kodiak Kowboy three times in 2009, and won once while finishing second twice - nor Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner California Flag.
Vale of York, Lookin at Lucky, and Noble's Promise - who took the first three spots, in that order, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile - are the finalists for champion 2-year-old male. Lookin at Lucky finished second in the Breeders' Cup to Vale of York, but is still favored to win this award because of his overall body of work, which included three Grade 1 victories.
She Be Wild, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, is a finalist for champion 2-year-old filly along with Blind Luck and Hot Dixie Chick.
Mixed Up is favored to win the steeplechase title against fellow finalists Red Letter Day and Spy in the Sky.
The finalists for the Eclipse Award as champion apprentice jockey are Luis Batista, Christian Santiago Reyes, and Luis Saez.
ECLIPSE AWARDS FINALISTS
Horse of the Year: Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta
Two-Year-Old Male: Lookin at Lucky, Noble's Promise, Vale of York
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, 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, Gio Ponti, Presious Passion
Female Turf Horse: Goldikova, Midday, Ventura
Steeplechase Horse: Mixed Up, Red Letter Day, Spy in the Sky
Owner: Godolphin Racing, Juddmonte Farms, Mr. and Mrs. Jerome S. 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