BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Azeri, winner of eight of her nine starts in 2002 including the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, Monday night was named North American "Horse of the Year."
Azeri's selection was by an overwhelming, but not unanimous, vote. Some voters looked elsewhere because the 4-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter had not run against male competition during the year.
However, the sentiment expressed shortly after the Breeders' Cup that, "If not Azeri, then who?" apparently prevailed. Each of the three voting groups - Daily Racing Form employees, turf writers and track publicists - cast a heavy majority of its votes for Azeri. War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Peakness Stakes, drew some support and nine other horses drew at least one vote each.
The selection was announced at the annual Eclipse Awards Dinner, held this year at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
Azeri narrowly missed an undefeated season when she finished second in the La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita last Feb. 9 in her second start of the year. After that, she reeled off seven straight victories, all of them in graded stakes. In the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Oct. 26 at Arlington Park, Azeri ran away from the toughest fillies and mares in training, winning by 5 lengths over Kentucky Oaks champion Farda Amiga.
War Emblem, whose campaign tailed off badly after the Preakness, was voted top 3-year-old male horse of 2002.
Jerry Baily won the Eclipse Award as the nation's top jockey, marking the third straight year he has been honored and the sixth overall. Bobby Frankel, who just missed setting a record for purses earned in a year, got the best-trainer Eclipse as a consolation prize. Ryan Fogelsonger, who burned up the track on the Maryland circuit in 2002, was named best apprentice jockey. Richard Englander received the Eclipse as top owner and Juddmonte Farms, owned by Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah, was honored as top breeder of the year.
In Japan, Symboli Kris S was named that country's Horse of the Year on Monday. Symboli Kris S is a Kentucky-bred son of Kris S. En route to the title, the colt twice defeated older horses in top-level, middle-distance turf races. He also was named top 3-year-old of 2002 in Japan.