01/15/2015 3:14PM

Hovdey: Eclipse was a Thoroughbred worthy of Greek mythology


The great rivalries give Thoroughbred racing a heightened sense of its own reality. There was Kelso and Gun Bow, Dr. Fager and Damascus, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, and if the game is lucky, there will be a brand-new, three-cornered feud among Shared Belief, Bayern, and California Chrome played out over the season ahead.

Those three names will be front and center Saturday night at Gulfstream Park when the Eclipse Awards are presented by the sponsoring National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form , and The Stronach Group. HRTV will broadcast the evening live. Those of us watching at home will have Twitter at the ready, having prepped last week with George Clooney and the Golden Globes.

The names of such muscular stars as Main Sequence, Untapable, and Close Hatches also will be very much in the mix, each of them pretty much unrivaled last year in their divisions. Towering over the event, however, both literally and very literally, will be the massive $30 million statue of Pegasus commissioned on the track property by owner Frank Stronach. I hear you can’t miss it.

:: 2014 ECLIPSE AWARDS: Watch Saturday’s ceremony live at 8 p.m.

As the temporary permanent home of the Eclipse dinner, this gives Gulfstream bragging rights to a pair of mythic creatures. Where you come down on the debate – Affirmed or Alydar, Pegasus or Eclipse – probably will break along party lines. Here is the tale of the tape:

Eclipse, a chestnut with a white blaze and hind stocking, was foaled April 1, 1764, at the stables of the Duke of Cumberland, aka Prince William Augustus, the youngest son of King George II, who did his dad’s dirty work in the field of battle against the Scottish rebels known as the Jacobites. His nickname was “Butcher” Cumberland, but that probably was nitpicking.

Pegasus, according to myth, was a white horse with wings foaled somewhere near the watery ends of the earth, where his mother, Medusa (one of the popular Gorgon sisters, the Kardashians of the age), had coupled with the sea god Poseidon in the shelter of a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. This apparently ticked off Athena something fierce – jeez, kids, get a room – and she responded by turning Medusa into a scaly monster with snakes for tresses, although she left her fair of face.

Eclipse was sired by Marske, a great-grandson of the Darley Arabian, and foaled by Spiletta, a granddaughter of the Godolphin Barb. He was inbred 3x4 to an unnamed sister of the mare Old Country Wench, which sounds like a good name for a pub.

Pegasus has a pedigree that would be illegal in most jurisdictions. His dam, the once-lovely Medusa, was a product of mating of Phorcys, a nasty sea creature, and his sister Ceto, an equally icky denizen of the deep. Pegasus was sired by none other than Poseidon, Mr. Ocean God himself, whose parents were the brother-sister act of Cronus and Rhea, both Titans. Why Pegasus had wings instead of fins remains a mystery.

On the day Eclipse was foaled, the new moon passed between the earth and the sun in perfect alignment, dousing the daylight in Europe and causing the superstitious to cover their heads and pray, while scientists – and the Duke of Cumberland – acknowledged the eclipse in their own ways.

:: 2014 ECLIPSE AWARDS: Full list of finalists and profiles

The birth of Pegasus was even more dramatic, although on a more personal scale. Perseus, an adventurer equipped with winged sandals, had to kill Medusa in order to save his mother from the clutches of an evil king. By then, Medusa had a grim rep for turning anyone to stone who dared give her as much as a glance. Equipped with a mirrored shield from Athena (her again), Perseus hacked off Medusa’s head, and out sprang not only Pegasus, a winged horse, but also his brother, Chrysaor, a winged boar who doubled in legend as a handsome, two-legged dude.

Word is that Mr. Stronach did not consider erecting a 110-foot statue of a flying pig.

Pegasus went on to heroic heights. He stomped the ground and brought forth the nine Muses (none of them, sadly, inspiring sculpture). He carried brave warriors into battle. He slew the dragon Chimera, who gets a supporting role in the Gulfstream creation. And when he died, Pegasus was honored by Uncle Zeus with his very own constellation in the northern sky.

Eclipse made no less of a mark. He ran 18 races at ages 5 and 6 and won them all, often by margins of a furlong or more that inspired the cry, “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.” He lived to the age of 25, leaving an indelible mark as a stallion in more than 90 percent of the tail-male Thoroughbred pedigrees today and lending his name to racing’s ultimate honors.

The Pegasus statue at Gulfstream is 11 stories tall, with more than 400 tons of material. Although this reporter has yet to stand in its shadow, I’m sure it commands the view from a long way off and up close makes mere humans feel small and rather insignificant.

The Eclipse Award is a bronze likeness of Eclipse himself under saddle, mounted on a wooden base with a brass nameplate. It weighs less than five pounds and can be carried from the dinner into the bar and waltzed around town, then stuffed in a tote under an airplane seat and taken home to show off to appreciative friends. Its detail is exquisite, thanks to the artistry of Adalin Wichman, and it makes its winner feel very large and definitely significant, at least for one special night.