The 2010 graded stakes schedule of major North American races concludes Monday with the San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita. Over the next week, many Eclipse Awards voters will be grappling with the selection of human and equine champions to be honored at the 40th Annual Eclipse Awards Dinner on January 17, 2011, at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Florida. Eclipse Award ballots were mailed to voters in mid-December, and the deadline for receipt of all ballots is Tuesday, January 4, 2011. The equine categories include:
2-Year-Old Colt or Gelding
3-Year-Old Colt or Gelding
Male Turf Horse
Female Turf Horse
Horse of the Year
The human categories are:
When it comes to actual voting, there is only one rule: to be eligible for a vote, a horse must have made one start in North America in 2010. There are many opinions about what the qualifications are or ought to be but none are codified in the Eclipse Award voting rules nor is any direction given to voters in this regard. The goal is to honor excellence- nothing more and nothing less.
Contrary to popular belief, no one at the NTRA has a vote in the Eclipse Awards. We manage the event for the industry but none of us at the NTRA has a direct say in the outcome. The voting takes place among the following groups:
1. Members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters;
2. Daily Racing Form writers and editors;
3. Equibase chart callers; and
4. Racing secretaries at NTRA member racetracks.
Votes are tabulated on a straight one-person, one-vote basis. Last year, a total of 271 ballots were mailed and 232 ballots were returned (85.6%). Voters are required to rank three horses or individuals in each voting category. The 1-2-3 voting determines the top 3 finalists except for Horse of the Year where there are no finalists. The champion is determined by the highest number of first-place votes. If a voter provides incomplete rankings (e.g. only a first-place vote) or attempts to split votes (in any of three positions), his or her vote in that category is disqualified.
All voting takes place online through a password protected Website. The votes are tabulated and verified by an independent accounting firm. I did not know that Rachel Alexandra was the top vote-getter for the 2009 Horse of the Year title until I opened the envelope live on stage last January at the Beverly Wilshire. The same will be true next month when I open the envelope for 2010 Horse of the Year.
Especially with the popularity of Zenyatta this year, we are once again hearing from fans who want a say in the outcome of the Eclipse Award selection process. Popular television shows like “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars” incorporate fan voting into the selection process with mostly great success. Internet voting and text messaging are natural fits for this type of fan involvement. But the Eclipse Awards, like the Academy Awards, the Grammys and other longstanding awards that honor the best in a particular industry, are not popularity contests.
But we have not forgotten the fans. Similar to popular “people’s choice” awards in the movie, music and television industries, the NTRA has established the annual “NTRA Moment of the Year”. For the past 12 years, we have been asking fans to vote for their favorite moment. Some of the winning Moments are happy snapshots in time—like Zenyatta’s 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic win. Others are tinged with sadness (e.g., Chris Antley with Charismatic after the 1999 Belmont Stakes, the passing of Seattle Slew, Smarty Jones losing to Birdstone in the 2004 Belmont Stakes). This year’s winning Moment will be recognized at the Eclipse Awards ceremony and those selecting the winning image automatically will be entered in a random drawing for a $100 gift certificate to the NTRA.com Online Memorabilia Store. [link to NTRA.com page]
So, the voting has begun and will continue until January 4, 2011. Now is the time to let your views be known. As the Eclipse Award voters wrestle with their ballots over the holidays, some will no doubt be looking for insight as they peruse the racing industry’s prolific trade and social media. Take advantage of these communications tools. And don’t forget that there are 17 categories in all. With all the debate about Horse of the Year, perhaps too little attention has been paid to the many other top horses in other categories.
Let me hear from you. Who are the top candidates in some of the categories that may have been overlooked so far?