In a race that was considerably closer than most of his runaway victories on the track, Conquistador Cielo was voted the horse of the year yesterday.
The 3-year-old colt beat out Lemhi Gold, the late Landaluce and Perrault for the honor, in the most hotly contested vote since the Eclipse Awards were established.
Conquistador Cielo had been the most brilliant thoroughbred performer of 1982, but he crammed almost all of that brilliance into a single week, when he won the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park in record-breaking time and then ran away with the Belmont Stakes by 14 lengths. He was retired to stud in August, after losing the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, and the limited range of his achievements counted against him with many voters.
The Eclipse Award winners are chosen by bloc votes of the Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers Association and the racing secretaries in the Thoroughbred Racing Associations. Each group's top choice gets 10 points, the second choice gets five points and the third choice one point. Conquistador Cielo, who finished first only with the Turf Writers, amassed a total of 18 points. Lemhi Gold had 15, Landaluce 10 and Perrault five.
Although the horse of the year voting had stimulated considerable debate within racing circles, most of the other categories were relatively clear-cut. The results of the balloting underscored the growing strength of West Coast racing. Five of the other 10 Eclipse Awards went to horses based in California.
Roving Boy and Landaluce, neither of whom ventured outside California, were named outstanding coltand filly among the 2-year-olds.
Lemhi Gold and Track Robbery, two more Westerners, were voted the top older male and female. Track Robbery scored a split decision in the balloting over Jameela, a mare who spent much of her career in Maryland.
Conquistador Cielo was the outstanding 3-year-old colt, of course, and Christmas Past the top 3-year-old filly.
Perrault, another Californian, was the champion male turf horse. April Run, winner of the Washington, D.C. International, was the leading female in that category.
Gold Beauty was the top sprinter and Zaccio the outstanding steeplechaser.
Angel Cordero Jr., who spent a year in frenzied pursuit of the money-winning title for jockeys, saw his effort bear fruit when he was voted the Eclipse Award as the outstanding rider--a title which most racing fans believe was long overdue him. Charles Whittingham edged out Woody Stephens as the leading trainer, and Viola Summer was the leading owner.
Alberto Delgado, who has been riding the Maryland circuit, was the Eclipse winner as the outstanding apprentice rider of 1982. He was in the money in 669 of his 1,313 races last year.