01/17/2012 3:59PM

Hovdey: Words flow like wine at Eclipse Awards

Ramon Dominguez provided some of the most meaningful words during his acceptance speech after winning his second straight Eclipse Award as leading jockey.

Sitting down to an old-fashioned session with a personal computer late Monday evening, after staggering home from the Eclipse Awards Dinner in Beverly Hills, I was shocked – shocked! – to learn that it had been televised.

I say this because, from the vantage point of sitting in the room for those 2 1/2 or so hours, the proceedings felt like anything but a television program. If anything, the 41st version of the awards evening was a throwback to one of those breezy, boozy gatherings of the distant past (as in the 1990s) when the doors closed on some glitzy ballroom in a randomly chosen town and the chosen few passed the time congratulating each other until somebody yelled, “Let’s dance!”

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

Those who expect an awards show of any kind to be anything more than tolerable background noise are either desperate shut-ins or hopeless TV romantics.

On such a night, the Racing gods to which so many in the game pay tribute pass the buck to the Awards Show gods, a sloppy, lazy bunch possessed of low standards and poor timing. That is why the Awards Show gods will forgive first-time winner Dr. Kendall Hansen for taking longer to say “thanks” than Hansen the Horse would need to complete all three legs of the Triple Crown, the Arc, and the Melbourne Cup combined.

The Awards Show gods are perplexed at the trend exhibited by the proud owners of Eclipse Awards winners who can’t seem to resist the temptation to recapitulate the entire tale behind their cherished champions, as in, “The infant Kal-El was placed with his blue and red binkie in a space capsule to save him from the destruction of Krypton, landing eventually in France, whereupon she was transferred to Chad Brown,” etc. In his extended remarks, owner Martin Schwartz made a detailed and compelling case for his fine filly Stacelita to be champion Turf Female, which was not out of place except for the fact that Stacelita was the champion Turf Female.

The Awards Show gods will give Frank Stronach great credit for making the case that the Eclipse Award for outstanding breeder should be rescued from the hands of the voters at large and decided instead by committee, or darts. In accepting his 57th trophy as outstanding breeder for the simple reason that his Adena Springs operation once again finished at the top of a statistically disingenuous table, Stronach gave credit to his wife, Frieda. According to Mr. Stronach, Mrs. Stronach “doesn’t allow me to sell any broodmares, so we accumulate a lot of broodmares and if you have a lot of broodmares you’re bound to have more winners if you’re lucky enough.” There you go.

The Awards Show gods got a laugh from Amazombie’s co-owner Tom Sanford, who interrupted the heartfelt comments of his awestruck partner and trainer, Bill Spawr, by pointing to an imaginary tote board and declaring, “Wait a minute -- there’s an inquiry.” This was deliciously inside, a joke made on the stewards’ controversial reversal of Amazombie’s victory in the Los Angeles Handicap last year at Hollywood Park, and those who got it loved it all the more since in the end it did not matter.

The Awards Show gods understand that men will drool -- that is their nature -- and they don’t mind doing it in public because they’ve been doing it for so long and getting away with it.

There was of course an obligatory, weak-kneed reference to Bo Derek, who gives the California Horse Racing Board something few regulatory bodies can boast: a passionate, proven advocate for equine welfare. Derek had a knowing throwaway line when she returned to the microphone for a second award with co-presenter Mike Smith and whispered, “Banter, banter, banter.” Yes, she is lovely. So was Mike.

One would think by now that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would have participated in enough awards show rodeos to know that nominees come first, opening of envelope comes second. But no, Hizzoner seemed uncharacteristically flustered, even with the steady Jeannine Edwards alongside to put him gently right. Sharing the reason for his minor flub, the mayor pouted, “I was supposed to do this with Chantal.”

Villaraigosa had to live with the fact that it was CHRB chairman Keith Brackpool who got to adorn the side of the glamorous Sutherland, now wearing an engagement ring the size of a small foreign car. Brackpool gushed over his luck at being so positioned, then delivered an eloquent tribute to the skills and sacrifices of jockeys everywhere. Sutherland said nothing about Brackpool, which was probably wise.

Jeannine Edwards was gracious and entirely comfortable in her role as the evening’s host (or “hostess” as she was once referred to, which brings to mind cupcakes more than anything, but never mind). She spent more time engaging the live crowd, which was welcomed, rather than the rumored television audience beyond the lights. In the end she was given a hug of appreciation by NTRA president Alex Waldrop, which is more than he gave previous hosts Kenny Rice or Jerry O’Connell.

At the end of the evening, two appearances resonated longest. Cot Campbell, recipient of the Eclipse Award of Merit, ended his well-received comments by thanking, “the horses, the horses, the horses,” with a gesture of affectionate embrace. And then it was the champion Ramon Dominguez, gracefully articulate in a language to which he was not born, who supplied a justification for the entire affair:

“Tonight, all these awards being presented are a product of hard work by so many people in our industry, from owners, trainers, jockeys, and exercise riders and grooms,” Dominguez said. “I would like to thank them, thank everyone. Because of their efforts, we can have great moments like this.”

I just hope the TV audience stuck around long enough to hear him.