Horse racing's big winter moment, announcement of the Eclipse Awards, evidently has been stolen by the New York Post, which reports that Affirmed will be -- has been -- named horse of the year.

"We are standing by our release time, which is 9 p.m. next Tuesday," reacted Bill Christine, an official of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, which conducts the voting for the awards that can mean more than a few bucks in sale prices, stud fees and publicity to the winners.

"There is more than one error in the (newspaper) story," said Christine. "I can't say which ones."

If the Post's source is accurate, Triple Crown champ Affirmed edged Seattle Slew, with Exceller third, in balloting by turf writers, Racing Form employes and racing secretaries. And the other prospective Eclipsers: 2-year-olds, Spectacular Bid and filly It's In The Air; 3-year-old filly, Tempest Queen; 4 and up, Seattle Slew and distaff Late Bloomer; grass horse -- Mac Diarmida; sprinter -- Dr. Patches; trainer -- Laz Barrea; jockey -- Bill Shoemaker.

Jackie Dawson, 42, wife of former Chief quarterback Len Dawson, was found dead, perhaps of a fall, in a bathroom of their Kansas City home yesterday. She had recovered to some extent from a stroke suffered in April 1977 involving some paralysis, the end was unexpected. The Dawsons were high school sweethearts in Alliance, Ohio, and together attended Purdue, where they wed in 1954; there are two grown children,.. Richard Petty, the stock car driver, is recuperating from surgery to remove scar tissue from an ulcer he suffered earlier this year; an all-around bad time for Petty, 41, the year and a half since the erstwhile nonpareil last won a Grand National race, July 4, 1977...

In Elyria, Ohio, Leon Spinks has been acquitted of failing to control his car when it crashed through a fence Oct. 21. And in St. Louis, the former heavyweight champ's light heavy brother, Michael Spinks, has been acquitted of charges (marijuana possession, striking an officer) stemming from a June scuffle at St. Louis' Lambert Airport.

National Fan Poll launches its '78-79 national basket ranking with Duke drawing 52 of 72 firsts, 1,324 points to 1,240 for runner-up UCLA.