Horses

Rachel, Zenyatta Horse of the Year finalists

They have been without peer for most of their careers and, when the 2009 Eclipse Award finalists were announced Wednesday, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta again were in a class by themselves.

As expected, the two extraordinary distaffers led the list of finalists for their respective divisions and were also the only horses to receive votes for Horse of the Year.

Rachel Alexandra, winner of all eight of her starts in 2009, including the Preakness Stakes, is a lock to be named champion 3-year-old filly.

Zenyatta, who won all five of her races last year and culminated her undefeated career by becoming the first female to win the Breeders' Cup Classic, is a lock to be champion older mare.

Those two will battle it out for Horse of the Year.

Overall, the list of finalists was devoid of many major shockers. Belmont Stakes, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Summer Bird is the expected choice to take champion 3-year-old male honors over Quality Road and Mine That Bird. Four-time Grade I winner Gio Ponti is a finalist, and a favorite, for both champion older male and champion turf male.

Gio Ponti is one of four horses to be deemed a finalist in more than one division. Multiple Grade I winner Ventura is up for both champion female sprinter and champion turf female, Music Note is a finalist for older female and female sprinter, and fellow Grade I victor Kodiak Kowboy will vie for champion older male and champion male sprinter.

The finalists were determined by votes cast by members of the National Turf Writers Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Winners will be announced at the 39th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, Jan. 18 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Steve Asmussen, who conditioned Rachel Alexandra through her last four wins after she was previously trained by Hal Wiggins, is a finalist again for outstanding trainer after taking the award last season. Asmussen led the nation in wins and earnings. He will go up against Bob Baffert, winner of 10 Grade I races in 2009, and John Shirreffs, who trained both Zenyatta and Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner Life Is Sweet.

One of the few surprise exclusions was trainer Jonathan Sheppard, who was not a finalist despite earning 16 graded stakes wins, seven Grade I triumphs, and training two likely champions in Informed Decision (champion female sprinter) and Mixed Up (champion steeplechase).

Jerry and Ann Moss, who campaigned Zenyatta, were among the finalists for outstanding owner, along with Godolphin Racing and Juddmonte Farms. However, Jess Jackson, majority owner of Rachel Alexandra, did not make the cut despite the possibility he could own the Horse of the Year for three years running.

Jackson also campaigned 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin.

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