01/18/2011 3:28PM

Horse of the Year an emotional victory for Team Zenyatta

From left: Mike Smith, Alex Waldrop of the NTRA, Ann and Jerry Moss, Dottie Ingordo, and John Shirreffs.

MIAMI – Three years of pent-up emotion for the connections of Zenyatta came bursting forth Monday night when Zenyatta was announced as the 2010 Horse of the Year, a title for which she had finished second the two previous years.

Jerry and Ann Moss, the owners of Zenyatta, reacted with great emotion. Jerry Moss largely held it together while making an acceptance speech, but his voice at times cracked, betraying the intense feelings he had for this moment.

“This is overwhelming,” he said in front of a packed ballroom at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel, while his wife repeatedly wiped away tears.

Moments earlier, the black-tie audience of more than 500 at the 40th annual Eclipse Awards dinner burst forth with a giant roar when Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, opened the envelope and read Zenyatta’s name.

Jerry Moss brought several significant people to the stage for the acceptance speech, including Jeanne and April Mayberry, the mother and daughter who first gave Zenyatta her early training lessons in Florida. John Shirreffs, who trained Zenyatta throughout her racing career, also came to the stage, as did jockey Mike Smith, who rode Zenyatta in the final 17 starts of her 20-race career.

DAILY RACING FORM: Newspaper cover for Zenyatta's 2010 Horse of the Year victory

Moss closed his remarks by quoting from a tribute to Zenyatta that was written by Priscilla Clark of Tranquility Farm, which cares for retired racehorses in Southern California. Clark’s words, published in a wall calendar that Tranquility Farm puts out each year, said “Zenyatta brought us beauty that was a tonic for the soul.”

It was the third time that Moss and his entourage had come to the stage Monday night. Earlier, Zenyatta received the Eclipse Award as champion older female, a title she won for the third straight year. And Team Zenyatta received a Special Eclipse Award for the way they shared Zenyatta with her legion of fans during 2010.

The connections of Blame, who beat Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic but finished second in the Horse of the Year voting, graciously accepted the outcome. Both Seth Hancock, co-owner of Claiborne Farm, and trainer Al Stall Jr. seemed to have steeled themselves for that result, realizing that the popularity of Zenyatta might well prove an insurmountable force.

Of the 251 eligible voters, 238 returned ballots. Zenyatta received 128 first-place votes to 102 for Blame from voters representing Daily Racing Form , the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, and the NTRA, whose bloc includes racing secretaries and employees of Equibase. Goldikova, the French mare who won the BC Mile for an unprecedented third straight year, finished third with 5 votes. Three voters did not denote a Horse of the Year choice.

ECLIPSE AWARDS: List of winners, vote totals, and video clips from the ceremony

Though all votes are pooled, it was notable how the different blocs cast their ballots.

The NTWAB, which has the most voters, went for Zenyatta over Blame by 71-49, with 2 votes for Goldikova. The NTRA preferred Zenyatta over Blame by a surprisingly wide margin, 36-15, with Goldikova receiving a single vote. But Daily Racing Form tilted toward Blame by 38-21 over Zenyatta, with 2 votes going to Goldikova.

The Horse of the Year announcement came at the end of a 2 1/2-hour awards presentation whose highlight was the poignant, heartfelt speech given by Marylou Whitney when receiving an Eclipse Award of Merit.

Whitney used her time to implore owners to take better care of racehorses from cradle to grave and to strive to improve conditions for employees who work, and often times live, in the stable areas of the nation’s racetracks.

“We have to try more to improve their lives and advance their dignity,” said Whitney, who received a well-deserved standing ovation when she was done.

Whitney is a passionate anti-slaughter advocate.

“As owners, you should be accountable for horses from the beginning of their lives to the end,” she said.

Whitney was introduced by Antony Beck of Gainesway Farm who called her a “living, breathing embodiment of the word philanthropist.”

“She’s a world-class sportswoman,” Beck said. “How many people have been to the South Pole and the North Pole, both within 4 1/2 months?”

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Whitney also was presented with a proclamation from the state of New York, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and delivered in person Monday night by Cuomo’s mother, Matilda, the wife of former Gov. Mario Cuomo.

The other Eclipse Award of Merit was presented to Claiborne Farm, for its 100 years of excellence. Hancock accepted the award from Ed Bowen of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and paid tribute to his grandparents and parents for laying the groundwork for the farm’s success.

Claiborne also received a tribute from Amy Zimmerman, who produced the Eclipse Award-winning television feature story on Swale that aired on HRTV. The media winners received their awards early in the evening.

“I don’t know how many of these you’re going to get tonight,” Zimmerman said, holding her trophy, while looking at the table where the Claiborne contingent was seated, “but you’re getting this, because it’s yours.”

Mike Repole showed his exuberance and humor during his lengthy acceptance speech for his champion 2-year-old male, Uncle Mo. Repole said he likes seeing pictures of himself with trainer Todd Pletcher because “even though we’re two years apart, I look so much younger.”

Pletcher, who has a terrific dry wit but does not often reveal it public, got back at Repole later. When accepting his Eclipse Award as champion trainer, Pletcher said, “Mike Repole said something real important during his 30-minute acceptance speech earlier,” then went on to thank owners for their support of the game.

Pletcher also paid tribute to Edward P. Evans, the prominent owner and breeder who died Dec. 31.

“We lost a really important person,” he said.

The evening began with a dedication to John Forsythe, the actor who for years was the emcee of the Eclipse Awards. Forsythe, who owned and bred Thoroughbreds, died last year.

Kenny Rice of NBC Sports and HDNet was the emcee for the fourth straight year.

“Me being here means one thing – Snooki was too expensive,” Rice said to a crowd that did not appear to have watched many episodes of “Jersey Shore.”

Rice’s best line came when he said he had received a text inquiring about how a retired male athlete gets to go to stud in racing.

“P.S., I’ve enclosed pictures. Brett Favre,” Rice said.