01/17/2011 2:13PM

Eclipse This

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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. 

Curt Muth More than 1 year ago
@ John H Let's get one thing straight Zenyatta is a unique thoroughbred that will go down as one for the ages in the USA, in the rest of the world she will go down as a "footnote" regarding All-weather racing. She was a nice race mare who won the equivalent of one group1 race (BCC 2010) and 18 other races.
John H More than 1 year ago
@ Curt - Thanks, Curt, for validating my earlier post with a lame response. Seems as though you missed the 2009 Classic along with all of the other Grade I races she won, dirt and synthetic. I guess her running style of "coming out of the clouds" didn't impress you either. So be it. The great mare won HOY and it was well deserved IMHO. ;-)
ez1goer More than 1 year ago
Amen!
Gary Peacock More than 1 year ago
Thanks for recognizing Ramon in your latest piece. Delaware Park is actually this south Jersey guy's home track and this man "ruled" the facility before heading off to the New York circuit. Quite the gentlemen, autographed photos of his Breeders Cup victory. He whould get more big time mounts. A class act. Keep going forward. Ramon!
Kimmie More than 1 year ago
Blame defeated Zenyatta by a head in the biggest race of his life which proves he is a far superior athlete because everything is always proved on the race track. This is why he should have been HOY for 2010. If you subscribe to that thought then, Onion was a superstar because he beat Secretariat by a length.
John H More than 1 year ago
Some, as we see in our purist handicapping group here, never do "get it". Zenyatta is a unique thoroughbred that will go down as one for the ages. I'm posting this after your wonderful article about Priscilla Clark and Tranquility Farm (for retired thoroughbreds). She only beat the boys in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic and would have in the 2010 Classic except for giving them about a 20 to 30 length head start. And this was on a track that didn't favor closers. By the way, where was HOY Rachel Alexandra at Oaklawn when Zenyatta showed up to meet her? American dirt racing is an anomaly that the rest of the world doesn't understand. Horses are supposed to run on grass or the next best thing, synthetics. The stats are there for all to see as far as breakdowns go. Yes, I realize that speed figures only "work" on dirt surfaces but how about saving a few thoroughbreds? Watching this great mare race was transformative all right. It was also as inspirational as the time I saw the legendary Secretariat win by 31 lengths . She brought "the people" back to racing and you just can't ask for more than that.
sherry2862 More than 1 year ago
In 2010, Zenyatta consistently ran her race against whoever showed up. On any given day, any of the horses she ran against could have won because of her running style but they didn't. Not to acknowledge that she was great enought to do this 19 times and almost 20 except for a 1/2 nose to a field 1/2 her age is nothing but "old school". Look at Blame? He got beat by Haynesfiled by 4 lengths who finished last in the BCC. He beat a horse who came up lame and entered a G3 race. Zenyattadid not have a conservative campaign, she was scheduled to run against Rachel Alexandra who never showed up. She also traveled East to the BCC in 2010 to run on the DIRT against colts half her age not only in 2010, but won it in 2009. Why did she need to travel anywhere else if she was already running in the race you think decides HOY against open company on DIRT? If that is the case, she would have won it last year. The arguments for Blame's HOY campaign just does not hold up. He is a good horse who won his trophy but thankfully, the powers that be realized that Zenyatta is one of the true thoroughbreds of a lifetime and rewarded her appropriately. "Sentinmental" votes did not get her the award. Her accomplishments on the track did.
ez1goer More than 1 year ago
The horses that showed up against Zenyatta were stiffs, not one grade 1 winner, and on her home turf. Blame beat grade 1 winners all summer on different tracks not fillies and mares. Oh yea, and he beat Zenyatta fair and square. It was a "sentimental" victory. (at least i spelled it correctly).
Curt Muth More than 1 year ago
@ Marilyn Keller The "Grade 1's" that Zenyatta ran in So.Cal in 2010 would have been down graded in any-other racing jurisdiction except North America, there is a requirement on that the at least 4 of the horses entered should be rated at 115lbs or the top 4 finishers run a 115lbs in the races or the race loses it's status. Zenyatta was the only horse in those races that had a rating of 115lbs or above. (115 lbs = 100 BS ) "Zenyatta didn't run against any horse in So.Cal. that could beat rubber dog shit or a Nebraska-bred $2500 non winner since Pearl Harbor." Racing has been taken over by the "Pretty Pony" crowed.
Bill More than 1 year ago
I'm an East Coast Saratoga guy (as opposed to a West Coast Del Mar) but I don't see how you can say that Zenyatta ducked the best horses all year. She came to Kentucky and faced the best male horses on dirt. She proved that she was not just an artificial surface freak. Earlier in the year she ran in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn. Not her fault if the best mares did not want to face her. The only thing that would have really won over the East Coasters was if Zenyatta had come to Belmont or most preferably Saratoga. This she didn't do, but Blame didn't ship to the West Coast at all. Blame only raced five times last year. If he had won them all, he would still have gotten my (very hypothetical) vote. But he was handily beaten by "Haynesfield" in the Gold Cup by four lengths. This in my humble opinion opened the door for Zenyatta to win. And her previous years' accomplishments were certainly taken into account. This might have been technically incorrect, but hey, the voters are only human in looking at her whole career.
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
As a great fan of this sport I love not only the racing, but the history and tradition as well. I thought one of the great moments of the evening was Marylou Whitney. What an elegant and wonderful example of her family's legacy she presents. This great sport was built by families like hers and she carries the torch with amazing grace and dignity. However, when presented with an oppertunity to do the same, I could not help but be disappointed with Seth and Dell Hancock. Representing a family with an equally rich tradition in front of the racing community, they failed to show the grace and sportmanship one would expect from members of a racing dynasty that spans 100 years. Surely there have been many ,many owners that have been on the short end of things against some of their great horses. And just as surely, they should realize that things don't always go the way one hopes. I hope Mr. Hancock reviews his response, and this evenings actions, and tries to make it right again. His father would expect nothing less, I'm sure. His legacy demands it.
markinsac More than 1 year ago
If it wasn't for the Racing Form votes, Zenyatta would have won the HOTY award handily. It's kind of odd that a publicationn that gets it's money DIRECTLY from the fans wont listen to them. Most fans' polls had Zenyatta winning at a margin of roughly 2-1, yet the DRF went the other way by roughly the same margin. At the awards, the Mosses and I think Christina Olivares are ones of the few that even tributed the fans. At a time when horse racing is losing it's customer base in droves, isn't it time to recognize the FANS? We are tired of being taken for granted. To all you bigshots at the DRF, you sell more of your product in the state of California. Is it your goal not to recognize these loyal patrons time after time again? Steven Crist makes the arguement that Zenyatta is not worth his vote. Yet I wonder who he voted for in 1990? Easy Goer or Sunday Silence? This publication is getting shoddy and it's too bad there's not another to challenge the ridiculous so-called "journalism" and "professionalism".
Marilyn Keller More than 1 year ago
You got it wrong, Paul. Zenyatta did not avoid top horses, the top horses avoided Zenyatta. These were legitimate Grade 1 races, but what does it benefit a horse's value as a broodmare to say "She didn't win a race in 2010 but she was second to Zenyatta 4 times!" You say she beat mediocre talent. If one of these races had turned out to be a walkover, would you say she beat nobody?
Del More than 1 year ago
I think Zenyatta won HOY because the majority of the voters handicapped the two campaigns and the final head to head. Blame won, indeed. But when you see the horse tiring and just barely making the finish, it wasn't a great performance. Zenyatta, on the other hand, was gaining. That's something even a novice fan can appreciate. On top of that, Blame had the help of a pack of slow horses impeding Zenyatta. In every race there are a few contenders. The others are only there for mutuel considerations. They create the chaos that cause high exotic payouts. In Zenyatta's races, no horse had a legitimate excuse. There were small enough fields where traffic was not a problem. She never had help. So the majority of voters were savvy enough to rate the horses in the Classic. Do you give it to the one that barely made it, even with help. Or do you give it to the one that was full of run, in spite of the nonsense it had to deal with. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not this time.
ez1goer More than 1 year ago
So let me get this straight Del, the other horses should have gotten out of her way? You're ridiculous pal. If you watched past the wire, Zenyatta never did get by Blame. Learn the sport a little better o.k. sport?