01/19/2014 12:36PM

Pletcher shows humor, emotion while accepting Eclipse Award

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Trainers Todd Pletcher (left) and D. Wayne Lukas at the Eclipse Awards dinner Saturday night.

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – In private, Todd Pletcher can be quite clever, but it’s a side he rarely shows publicly. But at the 43rd annual Eclipse Awards dinner Saturday night at Gulfstream Park, during which Pletcher received his record sixth title as champion trainer, he showed both his sense of humor and the emotional toll taken on him by the recent loss of one of his favorite horses.

Pletcher became audibly and visibly choked up while accepting his Eclipse Award when speaking about his parents, who were in attendance Saturday night, and the popular horse Caixa Eletronica, who died this month in a freak training accident at Belmont Park when a loose horse crashed into him.

“All those awards are special, and I think the older you get, you have more of an appreciation of how hard it is to win,” Pletcher said Sunday at the Palm Meadows training center. “Any time you talk about a horse like Caixa Eletronica, when you lose a horse like that, it makes you sad. And I think talking about your family, your parents, brings out your emotions a little more.”

Pletcher’s parents are divorced. His father, J.J., is a former racetrack trainer who now runs a training facility in Ocala, Fla. His mother, Jerrie, flew in from San Antonio for the dinner. They, along with Pletcher’s wife and three kids, all were at the same table, sharing in the moment.

At the dinner, Pletcher said one of the most enjoyable things about success in racing is “you can share the moments with people who mean a lot to you.” He said the biggest break he got was “being born to my parents.”

Pletcher said Caixa Eletronica, who became a multiple stakes winner after being claimed by Pletcher and owner Mike Repole, “personified everything that’s terrific about this game.” He called Caixa Eletronica “one of my favorites.”

A little later Saturday night, Pletcher presented the Eclipse Award of Merit to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, for whom Pletcher worked before going out on his own. Before introducing Lukas, though, Pletcher joked, “Anyone who missed ‘Duck Dynasty’ tonight, you can thank Mr. Horton for making up for that.”

Willis Horton, the owner of Will Take Charge, had a little earlier been responsible for the most entertaining acceptance speech of the evening. In his thick, folksy, Arkansas drawl, Horton twice refused to budge when the house band tried to play him off the stage, his banter increasingly engrossing the audience.

“Me and my wife have been on a honeymoon for 57 years,” Horton said, “and I know Wayne won’t last that long.”

Lukas, 78, recently got married for the fifth time.

Regarding his award, Lukas said, “John Nerud told me that when they start giving you awards, they’re trying to get rid of you.”

“Well,” Lukas continued, “to all you young trainers, I’m coming after you, so you better get up a little earlier.”

Lukas closed by saying, “Live every day like it’s your last, and one day, you’ll be right.”

Lukas’s longtime friend, former basketball coach Bobby Knight, paid tribute to Lukas in a brief video played as an accompaniment to Pletcher’s remarks. Knight called Lukas “the Babe Ruth of Thoroughbred racing.”

Video also was used to reveal the Horse of the Year, with Secretariat’s popular owner, Penny Chenery, opening an envelope and announcing that Wise Dan had indeed become a two-time Horse of the Year, just like Secretariat in 1972-73.

Wise Dan also won titles as champion older male and champion male turf horse, becoming the first horse to win three Eclipse Awards in each of two consecutive years. He is trained by Charlie LoPresti.

Morton Fink, who bred and owns Wise Dan, said one of his goals this year was “hoping to convince Charlie to run on dirt, long.”

Wise Dan is getting the winter off but is scheduled to return to action at Keeneland in April.