01/17/2011 1:13PM

Eclipse This


In a perfectly honest world -- as in the brutally frank Ricky Gervais version of hosting the vapid Golden Globes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tueD59x8JUo) -- the Eclipse Awards Dinner would acknowledge its sport as bloody, fractured, awash in medication, and stubbornly neglectful when it comes to the welfare of its customers and stars. But it won't.

Instead, Monday night's parade at the Fountainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach will turn a blind eye to the festering flaws in the game and celebrate those who rise above, or at least run the fastest. As a willing participant of many Eclipse dinners, it would be in poor taste to completely discount the virtues of such a gathering, and as a very fortunate winner in the past, I can vouch for the reality of the warming glow that accompanies recognition by one's peers. Then you go back to work. 

On that score, congrats to my fellow media types who will share the stage with the people who own, train and ride the horses we write, talk, twitter and blog about. No doubt, it beats calling Lotto balls. The idea that one or two stories in particular deserve to be elevated above the rest is on the face of it ridiculous -- there is too much good work being done out there and no one can read it all. But in the case of Wright Thompson, his piece at ESPN.com about Zenyatta was a wonder, and richly deserving of being singled out if only for the chance that more might read it because of the Eclipse Award. Here it is: http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/eticket/story?page=101104/Zenyatta.

The reader arrives at the end of Thompson's story entertained and enlightened. What a remarkable creature she was during those years at the track, when her people were so attuned to her singular vibes, and how she turned every pitched battle into a raucous celebration of the breed. But then, the curious reader would turn to the wider world of racing coverage and hear that there is a very good chance Zenyatta might not be heralded as Horse of the Year because there are many who felt she did not do enough despite her widespread appeal.

This baffling disconnect -- between the impact of the horse and the insider perception of her or his record -- has been growing in recent years, through the popular runs of Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex, in contrast to the relative anonymity of Horses of the Year Ghostzapper and Saint Liam, to the point where the increasingly vocal, internet-enabled chorus of racing fans is on the verge of dismissing the Eclipse Awards entirely.

The organizations that run the Eclipse Awards have steadily resisted the idea of bringing a representative delegation of fans into the process, but they have been tossing them a few bones. The Daily Racing Form honors its Handicapper of the Year during the awards dinner. The NTRA sponsors a fan poll to isolate the Moment of the Year and presents that moment during the program -- in this year's case the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic, when Blame defeated Zenyatta in a thriller.

Critics of more direct participation by the great unwashed cite the voting for the Academy Awards, which includes only those folks in the various disciplines of show biz. "That's what the People's Choice Awards are for," is the racing establishment line, and as long as they continue to conjure such a terrifying spectre, fan participation will be held at bay.

But racing's fans are considerably more attuned to the requisite traits of thoroughbred champions than the corresponding throng of movie-goers are to what the Motion Picture Academy prefers to honor. The People's Choice Awards, it should be noted, are sponsored by the music video cable channel VH-1. This is not exactly the demographic for Merchant-Ivory art house flicks or anything Colin Firth has ever done. At the PC Awards last week, Adam Sandler got the prize for Favorite Comedy Star, Johnny Depp for Favorite Movie Actor (really, there is a difference), and there were separate categories for Favorite Country Artist (Taylor Swift) and Favorite Movie Star Under 25 (Zack Efron Zimbalist Jr., or something like that). 

There was, however, one pleasant surprise. You would think the "people" in this sampling would have jumped hard for "The Social Network" as their choice for Favorite Movie of 2010,  given the fact that around four billion of their brethren are shackled to Facebook. But no, the People's Choice Award went instead to "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," which I've heard is about sexed-up vampires, but sounds like a movie about tonight in Miami if Zenyatta doesn't win.