01/26/2009 11:39PM

Eclipse Night

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MIAMI BEACH -- It wasn't the best or worst of Eclipse Awards dinners tonight at the Fountainebleu Hotel. Curlin (Horse of the Year), Proud Spell (3-year-old filly) and Benny the Bull (Sprinter) won the three most uncertain equine categories; the lone shocker was Frank Stronach (owner) over IEAH Stables by a single vote; and the news nugget of the night beyond the awards was that Benny the Bull is being unretired and will return this summer to defend his new title.

Some notes as it unfolded:

7:39 pm: Stardom Bound's trainer last year, Christopher Paasch, says it was "an honor to know her."

7:43 pm: The Henegan Brothers give a shoutout to the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance for their help in spreading the word about their excellent movie "The First Saturday in May."

8:01 pm: Neat trivia: Equibase President Hank Zeitlin, presenting the male turf horse award to Conduit, says that 27 percent of the 5600+ grass races run in North America in 2008 included at least one horse bred outside the United States and Canada.

8:30 pm: Okay, maybe I'm prejudiced since I handed this one out to the guy who won our contest last year, but I thought the highlight of the night, certainly for horseplayers, was Richard Goodall's speech accepting the 2008 Handicapper of the Year award. He eloquently beseeched track management to take care of their customers, keep the game fun, and work to repeal the insane Federal taxation system regarding gambling winnings.

8:45: Congressman Dennis Cardozo of California, about to present an award, agrees with Goodall and says it's "high time" to change the gambling-tax rules.

8:50: The huge IEAH contingent erupts with joy as Benny the Bull is named champion sprinter and announces he will return to training this summer. 

8:57 pm: Steve Asmussen's (Outstanding Trainer) gracious acceptance speech includes an acknowledgment of Parker Buckley, the exercise rider killed in a training accident at Saratoga last summer.

9:03 pm: The announcement of Stronach as Outstanding Owner stuns the room and may be the most talked-about result of the night. Sixteen different entities received votes on the 242 ballots, and Stronach triumphed by a 47-46 pluraility over IEAH, the heavy favorite after winning 11 Grade 1 races with eight different horses. As Jay Privman's news story on the voting reports, IEAH was the choice of two of the three voting blocs, the DRF and the National Turf Writers, but Stronach outpolled IEAH 17-4 among NTRA voters, who include racing officials at Stronach-owned tracks.

9:12 pm: Jerry Moss reopens the debate over the meaning of Zenyatta's name while accepting her award as champion older filly. Everyone agrees that it came from the title of The Police album "Zenyatta Mondatta," but Moss said the phrase means "Top of the World" in Sanskrit while Sting has always insisted they are merely pleasing-sounding nonsense words. Sanskrit scholars are invited to weigh in.

9:25 pm: Moss returns to the stage to thank Mike Smith for his rides on Zenyatta, which he forgot to do during his earlier speech.

9:47 pm: The show is running 17 minutes late but Jess Jackson keeps on going accepting Curlin's Horse of the Year trophy, veering away from racing with a gratuitous plea to President Obama to cut taxes and reduce government spending. When Jackson is done, emcee Kenny Rice gets off his best line of the night, suggesting that Jackson adopt the slogan "Jess We Can."

Two final thoughts:

*Especially given the every-vote-counts closeness of some awards, it's appalling how many completely indefensible ballots are cast through ignorance or whimsy. How in the world did two people vote for Ginger Punch over Zenyatta for champion older filly when Zenyatta drubbed her both times they met? How could anyone justify the single votes for Albertus Maximus and Go Between for champion older male over Curlin, or Tale of Ekati over Big Brown as champion 3-year-old?

*If there was a recurring theme to the most contested divisions, it was a preference among voters for a season of dirt accomplishments over synthetic-track form at the Breeders' Cup -- Indian Blessing over Ventura, Benny the Bull over Midnight Lute and Street Boss, even Curlin's wide margin(153 to 69) over Zenyatta for Horse of the Year.

Department of corrections More than 1 year ago
Wayne80, This statement: "Eclipse award winners are treated for catalogue purposes as USA Champions, not World Champions, or North American Champions." is simply incorrect. For there cannot be a single soul on this earth who treats Singspiel as a mere "USA Champion" when he has never even raced in the USA. While I'm here, and when it comes to Stronach, there wouldn't be a soul crying sour grapes over Stronach's win as top owner had he not sullied his reputation in a fully unrelated set of endeavors. Exactly how many races did IEAH win in 2008 anyway? Just because Frank S. didn't repair your barn area or because he closed down your favorite handicappers room, does not affect his qualification for the top owner category. Furthermore, why is it so outlandish that a person firmly entrenched as the top breeder in the land (five years running now) should garner the award for top owner? There are too many people/voters who are firmly convinced that some list should determine who wins the Eclipse Awards. If this were baseball, then the lists themselves would dictate the award-getter ("Batting Title", "Homer Derby", "best ERA", etc.) with no voting necessary. Stronach was certainly as appropriate as any candidate for leading owner, and he was much better than most others.
Fred Goldman More than 1 year ago
I missed Richard Goodalls speach... Is there some where i could get a copy are see it over ??? THANKS for you help Fred G.
rawlawltd More than 1 year ago
Is it just me, or do others get the impression that the IEAH people are just a little full of themselves. If Benny doesn't win the eclipse what were they planning on doing? Punishing us by not running him?? I actually think he was the best sprinter, but gee guys, we're not talking Secretariat. Not even a breeze yet, but they're targeting the Golden Shaheen as a 7 year old. I'll be there!!
Candy Estep More than 1 year ago
Sanskrit scholars weighing in: Taking liberties with the spelling, the two words could refer to Mundata Shunyata: Baldness Emptyness. Monks have shorn hair and regard the illusory nature of wordly phenomena. Another play on Zenyatta could mean warrior-ness from 'senya'. There are no 'z' sounds in Sanskrit.
Wayne80 More than 1 year ago
kyri, agree there need to be some standards regarding Eclipse voting, something to guide the voters. But the reason Curlin's overseas race counts and Raven's Run does not is simple, Curlin is based in the USA and ran the majority of his races here, not abroad. Eclipse award winners are treated for catalogue purposes as USA Champions, not World Champions, or North American Champions. Each country names their own Champions, which are listed in stud books and catalogues. For this reason, I have long proposed on these forums a minimum eligibility rule for an Eclipse winner. Excepting two year olds, a horse should not be eligible for the award unless it has won TWO Grade One Stakes races in the USA. No vote would be counted for any horse not achieving this minimum standard. For instance, I doubt very much that Curlin will be named the Champion older horse of Dubai, and Fourstardave was not the Champion of IRE the year he shipped over there and won the 2000 Guineas, so why does America continue to reward foreign invaders? A Champion American horse should never be a foreign horse that ships here to run in one race. IF an owner wishes to qualify for an Eclipse they should be forced to compete here more than one time.
EJXD2 More than 1 year ago
Regarding Peppers Pride, she only won five listed stakes races in 2008. Nineteen wins in a row is impressive, but Eclipse Awards honor the best of the year, and to suggest that Peppers Pride's five wins were more impressive than Zenyatta's seven doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
Harlan More than 1 year ago
[Regarding] IEAH: Why should we reward an organization that merely raises capital from others and almost always over pays for only a part ownership in established horses? I do believe they deserve credit for their marketing ability and the string of good fortune they had this year in their purchases, but no one can actually believe this is a sustainable business model. Eventually enough of the investors who pay outrageous premiums for these horses will buy into unsuccessful horses and the gig will be up. Just as he learned as a penny stock broker....your clients will be happy to invest blindly as long as there is success but the minute it collapses, the bottom will fall out. (Luckily for him, their are other industries that the same business model can be applied.) I do offer my congratulations to IEAH for a great year, but as most of the Wall Street crooks have realized this year, enjoy it while it lasts or at least stash it where they can't find it!
Andy Scoggin More than 1 year ago
I would have voted for Joe Allen, the owner of Peppers Pride for Owner of the Year. Managing that career for 19 in a row! The little guy of racing has a dream horse--all good. IEAH selfish, Stronach, selfish--nothing good!
Laughing More than 1 year ago
It bears mention that "Owner of the Year", in Eclipse Award parlance, does not refer to the owner of race tracks, only to the owner of a horse or stable of horses!
Erv Pofelski More than 1 year ago
Do a few of these voting idiots, also vote for the basaball hall of fame?