Eclipse Awards and the NHC--Rewarding All Those Who Matter

January is a busy month for the NTRA staff.  The Eclipse Awards and the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship – two of our industry’s biggest occasions - both fall in the first month of the year.  Making sure that these important events happen each year in a professional, well publicized way, is one of our top priorities as an organization.   

Both the Eclipse Awards and the NHC are expensive, labor-intensive events that demand a lot of the staff members at the NTRA who, like so many others working for non-profit associations these days, are forced by economics to do more with less.  We host these events because both are important to the marketing of Thoroughbred racing at the national level.   Equally as important, each event provides unique opportunities to reward those who are invaluable to our business.     

The Eclipse Awards are given to the horses and people who represent both the pinnacle and the foundation of horse racing.  The casino competition has bells and whistles, cards and dice.  We have flesh and blood, heart and soul.  It’s the biggest thing we have going for us as an industry.  Our competitors can’t stir real passion like the zeal that was so clearly on display Monday night when Zenyatta was named Horse of the Year.  

If I live to be an old man, I doubt that I will ever witness a more spontaneous eruption of pure joy and happiness than the one displayed by that crowd at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach after I opened that envelope and read Zenyatta’s name.  The crowd went absolutely wild. Slot machines can’t compete with that.  

Before the announcement Monday night, the Internet blogs and social media sites had been on fire for weeks with passionate debate on both sides of the Horse of the Year question.  The discussion engaged new fans and core fans like never before.  I fully understand those who are calling for more fan involvement in the Eclipse Award voting process, but from my perspective, it was fan involvement that clearly influenced the voting this year.  Three years ago, Blame would probably have been voted Horse of the Year.  But with the explosion of social media and the undeniable voices of horse racing fans coming at the industry from all sides to support Zenyatta, the Eclipse Award voters could not help but be influenced by their fervor.  That is no slight to Champion Blame or his connections.  It’s just a simple observation of how the world is changing, and how horse racing is adapting to this new reality.

A less public but no less important display of that same passion is the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship to be held January28-29 at the Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa in Las Vegas.  This event will draw 304 of the best horseplayers in North America to one of Las Vegas’ best race and sports book facilities.  For two days, the players will vie for over $1 million in prize money. All who compete at the NHC will have qualified at one of 109 local tourneys held at racetracks, OTBs, casinos and Internet sites.   These men and women love the intellectual challenge offered by handicapping horse races.  They also love the rewards of picking winners.  This year’s NHC winner will take home a minimum of $500,000.  In 2012, the total prize money will go to $2 million estimated with the winner’s share set at $1 million.  Not bad for two days of work.

At the NTRA, we believe in honoring horseplayers at the NHC every bit as much as we believe in honoring owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and horses at the Eclipse Awards.  If horses and horse people are the foundation of our game, players are the economic engine that fuels it.  Both segments are vitally important and without one, there would not be the other.  That’s why it’s fitting that we honor both at this time of the year.  

How about you?  Did you feel your voice was heard by the Eclipse Award voters this year?  How about the NHC?  Have you ever entered a qualifier?  If not, why not?   Let me hear from you.

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