Ferdinand won another photo finish yesterday and was named 1987's horse of the year.

The California-based horse became a contender for the title on the basis of a single performance -- his thrilling nose victory over Alysheba in the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic. His victory in the Eclipse Award balloting was just as tight.

A change of a single vote could have given racing's most important honor to the champion grass runner, Theatrical. Alysheba, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who finished second to Ferdinand in the Breeders Cup Classic, was third.

The horse of the year is chosen by three organizations -- the Daily Racing Form, the National Turf Writers' Association and the racing secretaries of tracks in the Thoroughbred Racing Association -- with each group's top three choices scored on a 10-5-1 basis.

Ferdinand won decisively among the Daily Racing Form voters. Theatrical had the edge among the turf writers, with 21 votes to Ferdinand's 19. The racing secretaries cast eight votes for Ferdinand, seven for Theatrical. A swing of one of those eight votes would have made Theatrical the top vote-getter from two of the three organizations and, thus, the champion.

Alysheba was a solid third choice among two of the groups and a co-third choice with Java Gold among the turf writers. Manila, Groovy and Miesque each got a smattering of votes.

Until late in the year, Ferdinand hardly would have been anyone's prime horse of the year candidate. Since his dramatic victory in the 1986 Kentucky Derby he hadn't done much except suffer some frustrating defeats -- notably two nose losses in Santa Anita's biggest stakes during the winter. He didn't win his first race of the year until June.

That is when his Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham set his sights on the Breeders' Cup. "After he lost those two races by a nose, I thought that was our best chance {to be named horse of the year}," Whittingham said. The trainer is a master at preparing a horse for a single objective, and he demonstrated that skill again with Ferdinand.

The colt won three straight stakes before the Breeders' Cup, but none was dazzlingly impressive. But he was prepared to deliver his best effort when it counted, rallying and then holding off Alysheba's late challenge in the world's richest race. If Alysheba had put his nose in front, he would have been considered a shoo-in for the title.

Ferdinand finished his season with 10 starts, four wins, two seconds, one third and earnings of $2,185,150. His career bankroll is $3,345,478.

Now a 5-year-old, Ferdinand is expected to campaign throughout the year. His first significant objective is the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in March. Whittingham said he probably will send the son of Nijinsky II to New York for the major fall races at Belmont Park, and then to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup and a shot at a second horse of the year trophy.

Ferdinand is the second horse trained by Whittingham to win the Eclipse Award. The other was Ack Ack, who won in 1981, the first year of the current voting format.

Theatrical, owned by Allen Paulson, has been retired to stud after a 5-year-old campaign in which he won seven of nine starts.