Balloting has begun for the Eclipse Awards, which will honor the best racehorses of 1980, and in some categories the choices have stimulated hot debate.
Underlying the arguments is a perennial unresolved question: Do you honor the solid peformer who has won a number of the major stakes races, or a horse who has accomplished less but displayed greater talent and brilliance?
This is a question of particular interest to Maryland racing fans, who would like to see their local hero, Cure The Blues, win the 2-year-old colt championship over Lord Avie.
Lord Avie has an unspectacular 5-for-10 record, but he won several major stakes, and he is the candidate of the voters who feel that championships must be won in New York.
Cure The Blues is undeniably the more gifted horse, having won all five of his starts in Maryland by a combined total of 38 1/2 lengths. He ran in only one major stake, the Laurel Futurity, but in it he demolished horses who had been giving Lord Avie a battle.
There may be enough New York chauvinists to deny Cure The Blues the Eclipse Award he deserves. I just hope they are willing to put their money where their votes are when the two colts meet for the first time next year.
The other Eclipse categories:
TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY: Heavenly Cause earned the title when she won the Selima Stakes at Laurel. She is probably not as gifted as trainer Bud Delp's undefeated Truly Bound, but this is a case where the more gifted horse did not accomplish enough to merit a championship. Truly Bound won only three races, never won at a distance, and never beat a rival of quality; she will have to wait till next year.
THREE-YEAR-OLD COLT: Temperence Hill won such classics as the Belmont Stakes, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup and earned more than $1 million this year. Nevertheless, he is an overrated bum. If the best 3-year-olds in the country were assembled for a race at a mile and one quarter, Temperence Hill could not finish in the money if he ran the best race of his life. I case a shaky vote for Jaklin Klugman, who beat Temperence Hill by eight lengths the one time they met, in the Marlboro Cup.
THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY: Genuine Risk fully deserves the Eclipse Award and will win it, though some purists will point out that Bold 'N Determined spotted her four pounds and beat her by a nose when they met this fall. In another year Bold 'N Determined would have been a worthy champion, but Genuine Risk's victory in the Kentucky Derby was the sport's greatest moment of 1980.
FOUR-YEAR-OLD-AND-UP MALE: Spectacular Bid, of course.
FOUR-YEAR-OLD-AND-UP FEMALE: Glorius Song never got much recognition but she had a brilliant season, winning races against fillies from coast to coast and giving Spectacular Bid as tough a battle as he had all season.
MALE TURF HORSE: Ill-bred but tough, John Henry carried high weight and beat the best grass runners on both coasts. He is the best of a bad lot.
FEMALE TURF HORSE: Just A Game II was eight-for-eight against members of her sex and gets the vote over The Very One, runner-up in the Washington, D.C. International.
Sprinter: iN a year when there were no great sprinters, the best was probably Plugged Nickle, who earlier this year was being touted here as a Kentucky Derby winner. Unfortunately, they don't run the Derby at seven furlongs.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: Spectacular Bid was the best racehorse in America this year; he was probably the best this country has seen since Secretariat. He may also be remembered as the gutless horse of the year, since his owner and trainer chose to put him on the path of least resistance, ducking tough weight assignments and other legitimate challenges. Still, a voter cannot possibly deny the Eclipse Award to a horse who won all nine of his races, set four track records, earned more than $1 million and demolished all of his opposition.