A Special Night at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach

The votes are in and the 2010 Eclipse Award finalists have been named.  The 2010 Eclipse Awards ceremony is now set for January 17 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach in Miami Beach, Fla.  The list of finalists contains few surprises but sets up some real contests to see who comes out on top.   First and foremost is the race for Horse of the Year (HOY) which once again pits Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Blame, against the phenomenal race mare, Zenyatta.  The anticipation is heightened by the fact that both Blame and Zenyatta have a legitimate shot at taking home the gold trophy.  I can’t wait to see whose name appears when I open that envelope to announce 2010’s HOY at the end of the evening.  

Kudos are in order for Eclipse Award voters who participated in record fashion.   A record 238 of the 251 ballots we mailed in December were submitted to an independent accounting firm prior to Tuesday’s deadline.  That’s an unprecedented 94.8% participation rate (though I must confess a certain disdain for the 13 people who were offered the much-coveted privilege of voting and yet for whatever reason failed to return the ballot).  In any event, finalists were determined in each category by voters’ top three selections using a 10-5-1 point system, with winners being determined solely by first place votes.  

There is little doubt that the close race for Horse of the Year between Blame and Zenyatta led to the strong showing by voters.  It is always good for racing to have full, competitive fields – whether it’s on the racetrack or at the Eclipse Awards ballot box.  Some in our business bemoan the contentiousness of the Horse of the Year debate between Blame and Zenyatta supporters.  At the NTRA, we welcome it (so long as it is reasonably civil).  

In today’s highly competitive sports entertainment environment, it takes heated rivalries like the one between Blame and Zenyatta to break through the clutter in the mainstream media.  It is undeniable that conflict and competition are at the heart of what makes Thoroughbred racing so exhilarating.   Think about it this way - if there are no differences of opinion, we have no  business.  

Also announced this week were two Eclipse Awards of Merit and one Special Eclipse Award.  

At the Eclipse Award ceremony, one of two Eclipse Awards of Merit will be awarded to Claiborne Farm in recognition of 100 years of excellence in the Thoroughbred breeding and racing business. The Award of Merit is given in honor of a lifetime of outstanding achievement and in this case, we are celebrating the outstanding achievement of an entire family.   The list of horses associated with Claiborne Farm  – stallions like Nasrullah, Bold Ruler, Mr. Prospector, Danzig and Seeking the Gold and great racehorses like Secretariat, Swale,  Lure and, of course, Blame- say it all.   The Hancock family members have for three generations maintained a hugely successful breeding and racing operation while at the same time serving in a wide variety of industry leadership positions, always with utmost character and dignity.  Congratulations to Seth, Dell and Clay Hancock and to the rest of the Claiborne family.   

A second Eclipse Award of Merit will be given that night to Marylou Whitney for her extraordinary service as an owner and breeder, and for her incredible generosity and support of philanthropic causes.   It’s been interesting for me to observe the reaction of people around the country to this decision.  I don’t know Ms. Whitney very well, so I was not prepared for the outpouring of praise for her efforts from so many in the industry.  Her skill as a breeder and owner alone might warrant her inclusion in the elite ranks of Award of Merit recipients, but it’s her generosity and philanthropic energy that truly sets her apart.  I am looking forward to the presentation of her award at the Eclipse Award dinner because it will be chance for many in the industry to learn just what a force for good that she has been over the years.
Finally, a Special Eclipse Award will be awarded at the Eclipse Awards dinner to Team Zenyatta.  The Special Eclipse Award is awarded for extraordinary service, individual achievements in, or contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.   No group of people has done more to promote Thoroughbred racing in recent memory than Jerry and Ann Moss and the excellent team they have built in support of their racing stable, .  Zenyatta is a once-in-a-lifetime horse but the Mosses and their team thoughtfully and in many ways lovingly presented Zenyatta to an adoring public in ways never before witnessed in Thoroughbred racing.   Some will no doubt try to characterize this award as a consolation prize, especially if Zenyatta fails to win HOY honors.  That would be a mistake; not only because the decision to give this Special Eclipse Award came long before HOY voting ended and from a committee that has no idea who will be HOY, but also because it would trivialize and in some ways diminish the very real and important contributions that the people who make up Team Zenyatta have made to racing over the last year.  Whatever the outcome of HOY voting, 2010 was a very special year in Thoroughbred racing because of Zenyatta and the team of humans that surrounded her.  Team Zenyatta moved the needle in numerous measurable ways. That indisputable fact validates the special recognition that only a Special Eclipse Award can bestow.  

It’s going to be a night to remember, Monday, January 17, in Miami.  Join us at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach if you can.  Dinner is at 6:00 p.m. with the Awards Ceremony getting underway at 7:00 p.m. in the Fleur de Lis Ballroom.  As always, there will be a great after party immediately following the Awards Ceremony (LIV Nightclub).  Tickets are still available by calling Michele Ravencraft at the NTRA’s Lexington office, (800) 792-6872, or you can e-mail her at mravencraft@ntra.com.   If you can’t make it in person, be sure to tune in to TVG starting at 6 p.m. (ET) for all the fun.  

Will you be there in person?  Watching on TVG?  Let me hear from you.

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