01/17/2012 2:13PM

California-breds Acclamation, Amazombie reward pair of longtime participants

Leading apprentice Kyle Frey paid tribute to his recently deceased grandfather during his acceptance speech.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – With the Eclipse Awards being held in California, two of the most popular winners on Monday night were from the home team. There were rousing cheers in the ballroom at the Beverly Wilshire hotel when both Acclamation and, especially, Amazombie were announced as champions.

Both horses are California-breds, and both provided rewards for people who have been participating in the game for decades.

“After only 55 years in the business!” an exuberant Buddy Johnston, who bred and is the co-owner of Acclamation, said when accepting Acclamation’s trophy for champion older male.

“Acclamation is a four-generation Old English Rancho-bred,” said Johnston, who took over the famed California farm from his father, the late Ellwood B. Johnston. “My dad started the business in 1938. It’s been a family affair, a love affair, for many, many years.”

[ECLIPSE AWARDS: 2011 Eclipse Award winners, video | Crist: Full voting breakdown]

Acclamation’s victory capped a memorable day for Johnston and trainer Don Warren, who also won the San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita on Monday with their homebred Norvsky. Warren, in fact, never made it to the Eclipse Awards because there was no time to get from Santa Anita to here in time following the race.

“He couldn’t make both, but he made the winner’s circle,” Johnston said.

Amazombie, who was named champion male sprinter, was the first Eclipse Award winner trained by Bill Spawr, who has been training for nearly 50 years. Spawr also owns Amazombie in partnership with Tom Sanford. Amazombie won 5 times in 9 starts last year, and was disqualified from a sixth victory in a controversial call by stewards in the Los Angeles Handicap in May.

Just as Spawr began his acceptance remarks, Sanford interrupted him.

“Wait, Bill, the inquiry sign came up,” he joked.

Apprentice pays tribute to grandfather

One of the most poignant moments of the evening came when Kyle Frey, when accepting his Eclipse Award for champion apprentice jockey, told the audience, in a voice choked with emotion, that his grandfather, a former jockey, had recently died.

“He passed away a few days ago,” Frey said. “This is for him.”

Frey said winning the award “was a dream ever since I heard the word Eclipse.”

“I’m absolutely speechless,” he said.

Jackson, Siegel honored

The ceremony opened with a tribute to prominent owners Jess Jackson and Mace Siegel, both of whom died last year. Jay Hovdey, Daily Racing Form ’s executive columnist, said both men left racing “in a better place than when they fell in love with the game.”

The audience rose to give both men a standing ovation.

Later, when accepting the Eclipse Award for My Miss Aurelia as champion 2-year-old filly, owner Barbara Banke, Jackson’s widow, gave thanks for the tribute.

“He pulled me into this sport,” Banke said of Jackson. “I thought he was crazy, but I’m hooked.”

Rapid Redux gets special Eclipse

Rapid Redux, who won all 19 of his starts in 2011, was honored with a Special Eclipse Award for that achievement.

“He did things no horse has done in half a century,” Steven Crist, publisher emeritus of Daily Racing Form , said when presenting the award, in reference to the 19 wins in a calendar year by Citation in 1948.

Robert Cole, the owner of Rapid Redux, acquired the horse in a claiming race following a three-way shake. He said trainer David Wells turned Rapid Redux into “an unforgettable racehorse.”

“David and Rapid Redux were perfect in 2011,” Wells said.

Rapid Redux was so popular that he even received four votes for Horse of the Year.

Handicapper of the Year acknowledged

One of the highlights of the Eclipse Awards every year is the tribute paid to the sport’s backbone, the horseplayer, through the winner of the previous year’s Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship.

John Doyle, 50, who gave up his salaried position at IBM to become a full-time horseplayer, won last year’s tournament, and a $500,000 first prize, and was introduced by Crist on Monday night.

“I tell people I’m a horseplayer, and there’s a stigma attached, but I don’t care,” Doyle said. “The horseplayer is the straw that stirs the whole thing.

“I love this game with all my heart,” Doyle said. “I learned to read the Racing Form when I was 7 years old. Forty-three years later, dad, I’m at the top.”

◗ On a night when Havre de Grace was named Horse of the Year, become the third straight female racehorse to receive that honor, Jeannine Edwards of ESPN was the first female emcee of the Eclipse Awards dinner. “I think this is turning into the Sport of Queens,” Edwards said.