A Look at The Eclipse Awards

GO ZENYATTA

The Eclipse Awards will be announced next Monday at a black-tie affair in Beverly Hills.

Obviously, in this case there is no such thing as a home-field advantage, but I imagine they will tear down the joint if Zenyatta is the chosen one.

On the other hand, imagine the gloom in the room if Rachel Alexandra gets the nod. Unlike political elections, there is no such thing as a recount when it comes to Eclipse Awards.

That said, here are my choices for the various Eclipses. Keep in mind that, unlike past years, I have no inside information, ironically an Eclipse Award winner in her own right.

So here goes...

TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE:
My choice: Lookin at Lucky
Likely winner: Lookin at Lucky

TWO-YEAR-OLD FEMALE:
My choice: She Be Wild
Likely winner: She Be Wild

THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE:
My choice: Summer Bird
Likely winner: Summer Bird

THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY:
My choice: Rachel Alexandra
Likely winner: Rachel Alexandra

OLDER MALE:
My choice: Gio Ponti
Likely winner: Gio Ponti

OLDER FEMALE:
My choice: Zenyatta
Likely winner: Zenyatta

SPRINTER:
My choice: Kodiak Kowboy
Likely winner: Zensational

FEMALE SPRINTER:
My choice: Informed Decision
Likely winner: Informed Decision

MALE TURF:
My choice: Gio Ponti
Likely winner: Gio Ponti

FEMALE TURF:
My choice: Goldikova
Likely winner: Goldikova

STEEPLECHASE:
My choice: Mixed Up
Likely winner: Mixed Up

TRAINER:
My choice: John Shirreffs
Likely winner: Steve Asmussen

JOCKEY:
My choice: Calvin Borel
Likely winner: Julian Leparoux

APPRENTICE JOCKEY:
My choice: Christian Santiago-Reyes
Likely winner: Christian Santiago-Reyes

HORSE OF THE YEAR:
My choice: Zenyatta
Likely winner: Rachel Alexandra

Obviously, other than the Big One, there won't be a whole lot of suspense. Most of the awards are obvious, and there's no sense battling City Hall.

The one exception is my choice of Calvin Borel for the jockey Eclipse. Obviously, Calvin lacks the numbers of Leparoux, Gomez and Dominguez, but CB did more in '09 to help racing than anyone since Smarty Jones in '04.

It seems to me that 8-for-8 on Rachel, a Derby ride for the ages on Mine That Bird, and a Fall title at Churchill Downs should be at least sufficient to make the cut.

If it's any consolation, Borel is the last person in the world to care about individual awards.

Meantime, John Velazquez, a two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey, continues to lead the Gulfstream Park standings despite taking an ofer last Saturday in Gulf's five-race stakes package.

You may recall that last Friday in this space I mentioned that Johnny V was sitting pretty with four favorites and a second choice.

As it turned out, Munnings, one of those favorites, was scratched due to the wet track, and Johnny V's four other goodies got beat.

Such is racing.

Another Florida rider made news last week.

Toward the end of the Friday column, we said we joined the rest of the racing community in praying for Dan Centeno's recovery.

Centeno, the perennial leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs, was kicked in the chest by a horse in the paddock for the seventh race on Jan. 10, and was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where he was placed in intensive career.

Three days later, on Jan. 13, Centeno rode four winners at TBD.

What more evidence do you need that jockeys are the toughest athletes?

The big winner last Saturday was trainer Gary Contessa.

In south Florida, Contessa won the Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes with Hatfield, beating Hockeythehayman, whom Wes Ward suggested in print was the most talented horse he's ever trained.

And in Ozone Park, Contessa sent out a newly-turned 3-year-old named Eightyfiveinafifty to win a six-furlong Aqueduct maiden-special by 17 lengths in 1:10 4/5 under Jorge Chavez. Moreover, the colt's 105 Beyer number is the best nationally to date in this young year.

Unless the Sheiks dive in, Eightyfiveinafifty will stay in New York for the Gotham and the Wood Memorial, and, if all goes well, head for Churchill for the Derby, which will be run on May 1.

Of course, Eightyfiveinafifty will have to outrun his pedigree to get to Louisville. His sire, Forest Camp, never won beyond six furlongs.

Contessa sure has come a long way since he was going head-to-head with Phil Serpe in those Jersey-bred claimers at Monmouth Park back in the early '90s.

So that's it. May your week be filled with winners, and don't forget to check out my selections here online or on the John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283.


OPENING AT OAKLAWN  

Also, you may want to pick up a copy of the February issue of American Turf Monthly for my cover piece on Oaklawn Park, which opens Friday. Opening Day at Oaklawn Park is a time that I've enjoyed great success in, and have something special planned again this year. You can learn more by clicking here

While things are heating up at Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park kicks off its 54-day meet on Friday afternoon with a nine-race card featuring the $50,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

As per custom, there will be no shortage of betting opportunities at the Hot Springs track.. Exhibit A is opening day when five of the nine races will boast full 12-horse fields.

Seven of the nine races are sprints -- six at three-quarters, one at five and a half -- and if the past portends the future, you'll want to concentrate on the outside post positions going short. Conversely, the inside is traditionally the place to be going two-turns at OP.

And, of course the JP Hot Line will be right there to guide you through the rough spots. I had to learn something during my 13 years on the scene.

I would not be at all surprised if Terry Thompson, who got off to a torrid start last year at OP, and went on to win the jockey title in a blowout, again gets off to a fast start. Thompson rides six opening day, and all are live, notably Decelerator in the Dixie Belle, which goes as race eight.

Luis Quinonez, another former Oaklawn riding champ, will pilot Shotgun Gulch, the likely favorite off victories at Remington in the Gaylord Memorial and Oklahoma Classics Lassie.

The field of seven is completed by: Crossfirehurricane (Quincy Hamilton); Rapid Racer (Larry Sterling); Enticing Girl (Corey Nakatani); Vertical Vision (Orlando Mojica), and Cosmo Girl (Brian McNeill).

It will be interesting to see if Nakatani, a long-time star on the southern California circuit, makes an impact in his rookie year at Oaklawn. He has five calls on opening day, and all look live.

Another Oaklawn newcomer to watch is Freddie Lenclud, a Frenchman who excelled in his rookie year in Kentucky. Doc Danner, the agent for Pat Day in Day's salad days, has his book.

Oaklawn already caught a major break. Last week, the racing strip was closed when the temperatures dipped into the teens. This weekend, temps in the mid-'50s are expected, and no rain.

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