12/14/2012 4:59PM

Hovdey: This Eclipse voter knows all the issues

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To my knowledge, there has never been any evidence of voter fraud or flagrant miscounts in the 41 Eclipse Award elections that have been held since 1971, unless you are among those of us who still maintain that Exceller was robbed blind in 1979. But never mind.

Instead, when it comes to choosing the Eclipse champions of 2012 there is more of a chance that confusion will reign rather than long lines and voter supression.

A total of 268 individuals have been sent passcodes to electronic Eclipse Award ballots this year. Whether or not all of them have active email accounts and access to working computers is a detail the voting officials presumably have taken into consideration. Voters become eligible through membership, employment, or professional attachment to either the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, the Daily Racing Form and Equibase, or the member tracks of the National Thoroughbred Racing Associations. The deadline for voting is Jan. 3.

Among the handful of new voters added to rolls this year, through her freshly minted membership in the NTWBA, is Marcie Heacox, a freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared primarily in the Thoroughbred of California Magazine, which is the house organ for the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

Heacox, 25, would appear to fit the profile of what it takes to get a toehold in what can be loosely described as racing journalism in the modern media universe. (For a dispassionate look at the issue, I would refer the reader to a recent piece written by Ray Paulick on the disappearance of the horse racing beat writer.)

She lives in the high desert California community of Apple Valley, a place where horses and movie stars once roamed.

“Growing up as a kid, I could see a horse farm from my house,” Heacox said. “I didn’t find out until it was already razed and being turned into tract homes that it was once a Thoroughbred farm, and they had a Big Cap winner standing there.”

It was, in fact, the Clear View Ranch of the late California owner and breeder George Warwick, and the stallion to which Heacox referred was Interco, winner of the 1984 Santa Anita Handicap.

“Now they’ve named the streets there after famous Thoroughbreds,” she noted. “Like Secretariat.”

Heacox is that classic racehorse lover from afar whose passion for the sport was hooked by televised events, leading her to do whatever it took to be close to the show. After graduating from Cal Poly Pomona, she worked for Hall of Fame trainers Ron McAnally and Jerry Hollendorfer, learning the horse from the ground up. This could only help, for in addition to her writing and her photography, she is rapidly becoming an accomplished equine artist. Heacox describes herself as self taught, although she has drawn the line at horseback.

“The last time I truly rode a horse was my dad’s friend’s old Arabian that hadn’t been ridden in a month,” she said. “They warmed it up quite a bit before I got on, and I started walking figure-eights in an empty lot. Then the saddle started slipping, and I fell off at a gallop, although I think I kind of halfway bailed out because I didn’t want to get my foot caught in the stirrup.”

This is quick thinking, which leads one to believe Heacox won’t have any trouble on her first Eclipse ballot figuring out who, for instance, should be the champion 3-year-old filly. Certainly the most impressive single performance of the season was Questing’s thorough dismantling of the Alabama, although there was nothing wrong with My Miss Aurelia’s stubborn pursuit of that machine called Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.

It may also help that Heacox has a judgment unimpaired by years of second-guessing and self-doubt when it comes to casting her vote for champion male turf horse of 2012, given a tough choice between the charismatic gelding who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Arlington Million, and the Woodford Reserve, or the charismatic gelding who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile, the Woodbine Mile, and the Shadwell Turf Mile.

“I have friends who’ve been voting for years,” Heacox said, “and they read everything in the PPs before they vote. I don’t know if all voters do that, but I think that’s what you should do. And I’ll wait to vote until the last race is run on Dec. 31.

“I’ve been complaining for years about some of the results,” she added with a laugh. “So now I get to do something about it.”

Heacox was front row center to watch a lot of the championship contenders perform at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. When she wasn’t taking notes or snapping the shutter, she was posting a regular videoblog of what she witnessed, morning and afternoon, at her website, Gallopout.com.

“It was a great opportunity being there,” she noted. “But I don’t think seeing the horses first hand makes a difference in how you vote. It’s the PPs that tell the story.”

There are, praise be, more than a few versions of Marcie Heacox coming forth despite the shrinking opportunities to translate the love of the game into food on the table. It would be a shame to lose them.

“I haven’t been able to get a full-time job since I graduated, so I’m doing as much freelance work in as many areas I can because I can do it, and I love to do it,” Heacox said. “As long as the horse racing industry is still there for me, I’ll be there.”