Azeri became the third female to win American racing's highest honor when she was named the horse of the year at the Eclipse Award ceremonies in Los Angeles last night.
The California-based speedster recorded eight victories and one second-place finish in nine starts as a 4-year-old, ending her campaign with a runaway victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Even though she was admirably consistent, Azeri will be regarded as one of least accomplished winners of the horse of the year title because she scored all of her victories against members of her own sex. Every previous filly who beat out males for an Eclipse Award had proved herself against males on the track.
But voters had no viable alternative to Azeri, since the country's top male racehorses had erratic records and flopped in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Azeri was the solid top choice of all three voting blocs that determined the Eclipse Awards: the National Turf Writers Association, the Daily Racing Form and the racing secretaries of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. She also was a unanimous choice as the champion older filly or mare.
Most of the equine categories produced predictable and lopsided results that were heavily influenced by the outcome of Breeders' Cup races. The undefeated Vindication and Storm Flag Flying were named the champion 2-year-old colt and filly, respectively. Vindication won easily over the Maryland-based Toccet, collecting 197.5 individual votes to Toccet's 25.5 despite an aggressive advertising campaign by Toccet's owner, Dan Borislow.
War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was the champion 3-year-old colt, and Farda Amiga was the top 3-year-old filly.
Left Bank, whose death cut short a brilliant campaign, was named the outstanding older male in a close decision over Volponi, winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic.
High Chaparral and Golden Apples were the champion male and female turf runners. Orientate was the outstanding sprinter and Flat Top the leading steeplechaser.
Jerry Bailey earned his sixth Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding jockey, and Maryland-based Ryan Fogelsonger was the leading apprentice. The youngster quickly established himself as one of the top riders at Laurel and Pimlico and finished the year with 267 victories and $4.4 million in purse winners.
Bobby Frankel repeated as the outstanding trainer. Juddmonte Farms was the leading breeder. Richard Englander was named the leading owner in the closest of all the votes. Englander, who runs a far-flung stable that consists mostly of claiming horses, edged out the Thoroughbred Corporation, owned by the late Prince Ahmed Salman, which won the Derby with War Emblem.
The voting for leading owner surely will prompt more of the annual calls for a reexamination of the system in which each of the three participating groups votes as a bloc. Englander emerged the winner even though he received 42 individual votes while the Thoroughbred Corporation got 66.