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An 'Eclipse' of justice?

Frank Stronach didn't win the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding owner because he deserved to, but because too many voters, whether sloppy, lazy, ill-informed, or a combination of the three, blew it. The end result was that IEAH Stable, which lost to Stronach by a mere one vote, was robbed of an Eclipse Award in what might have been the biggest injustice in Eclipse Award history.

There's little doubt why 47 voters chose to give Stronach the honor. They thought his Stronach Stables led the nation in earnings. There's no other possible reason to have voted for him. He didn't win a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup race and he didn't campaign a single Eclipse Award winner. He won only three Grade I races, all of them with the same horse-Ginger Punch. Though his stable won 114 races, he wasn't close to being leading owner in that category.

The problem is, he didn't lead the nation in earnings. Many voters no doubt assumed that he did when receiving their ballots and information packets. In a chart sent to voters listing the top owners by earnings, Stronach Stables is in fact on top, with $6,597,964. But the chart only ran through Dec. 3. By the end of the year, Zayat Stables had passed Stronach, finishing the year with $206,778 more in earnings, topping the industry's official standings.

The NTRA will probably take some hits here because it is the organization that puts out the information packets and handles the balloting. But the real blame goes to the 47 people who voted for Stronach. There's little doubt the majority of them never bothered to check to see who actually led the nation in earnings at the conclusion of the year or sent in their ballots before Jan. 1.

Even Eclipse presenters were fooled. In a video played at the Eclipse ceremonies that outlined the accomplishments of the three finalists for the top owner, the commentator stated that Stronach led the country in earnings. The NTRA put out a statement Monday correcting the mistake.

But Zayat Stable shouldn't have won either. IEAH Stable so outperformed every other stable in the nation that it should have won the voting in a landslide. Not only did the stable win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Big Brown, it had an arsenal of quality horses that won major stakes across the country. IEAH won 11 Grade I races with eight different horses. Two of them-Big Brown and sprint champion Benny the Bull-won Eclipse Awards. IEAH had an incredible year.

But IEAH's accomplishments weren't obvious to those voters who apparently don't pay much attention to the sport. IEAH owns virtually all of its horses along with minority partners and, because of that, the stable's overall statistics weren't grouped together in the information packets.

The only mention of IEAH in the earnings category is the partnership of IEAH and Paul Pompa, Jr. which owner Big Brown, who earned $2,676,700. In actuality, horses at least partially owned by IEAH earned $10,728,717, nearly $4 million more than Stronach or Zayat.

Let this be a lesson for the NTRA. With so many syndicates and partnerships out there, it's unfair not to lump all the horses together that are owned at least in part by one partnership or syndicate. It obviously can't count on voters to figure it out by themselves.

Perhaps some voters shied away from IEAH because syndicate head Michael Iavarone received some unfavorable publicity when it was revealed that he had run afoul of regulators when trading stocks prior to forming IEAH. That may make Iavarone less than likeable, but in no way should his past have had any bearing on voters. To have held this against Iavarone and IEAH in Eclipse voting would be incredibly unfair.

The bottom line is that the voters got this one wrong. Take nothing away from Frank Stronach, who is, year in and year out, one of the sport's top owners. But he did nothing special in 2008. Nor did he lead the sport in any meaningful categories as an owner. He didn't do nearly enough to get the votes that he did.

A lot of voters have exposed their ignorance.

Punch Line?Why do some Eclipse voters insist on making a joke out of their votes? Case in point: what knucklehead voted for Joe Rocco as the nation's top jockey? Rocco, a veteran who rides at the Mid-Atlantic tracks, won 32 races in 2008, none of them stakes.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.