Horse racing's Eclipse Awards have been around since 1971, but on Saturday night for the first time the event will be held at a racetrack when Gulfstream Park hosts the annual evening to honor the sport's equine and human champions. The sold-out Eclipse Awards Dinner will take place at the South Florida casino and racetrack's Sport of Kings Theater, but after Horse of the Year is announced, racing fans will be able to mingle with the participants at an after-party reception. HRTV will be televising the event live (and the Paulick Report will be live-blogging from Gulfstream Park).
Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, talked about the Eclipse Awards dinner and voting procedures with Paulick Report publisher Ray Paulick.
What is the purpose of the Eclipse Awards?
In one sentence it is intended to honor those humans and equine athletes that are viewed by a wide group of voters as being champions in their respective divisions. It's nothing more and nothing less than that. When you look at the list of winners from the past, I think it is very important to the individuals and important to the industry to recognize those champions from a historical standpoint.
This year's Eclipse Awards culminate a week of related activities with an increased emphasis on charity fund-raising, and dress for the dinner itself is now black-tie optional and something called “Miami chic.” Are there any new wrinkles in the awards presentation portion of the evening?
None to speak of other than the fact we will have (ESPN reporter) Jeannine Edwards back as host. She did a phenomenal job last year, and I think she might have a few surprises in her opening remarks that should set the tone for the evening and will be very entertaining. We've got six media awards, 17 human and equine categories, and if those accepting adhere to the one-minute or less policy, we'll be out by 10:30.
What time do you expect the Horse of the Year announcement to be made?
Somewhere around 10:15 p.m. (EST).
What can you tell us about the telecast?
HRTV is going to have a full team here, including Laffit Pincay III and Carolyn Conley, Gary Stevens, Caton Bredar and Christine Olivares Blacker. They'll all be at Gulfstream Park for the show, which is being produced by Amy Zimmerman and Michael Canale. It's going to be a good broadcast with a South Florida flavor to it.
Will the event be streamed live online in addition to being on HRTV?
It will be live on DRF.com and also broadcast on RTN.
It can be a long night and, speaking as someone who's never won an Eclipse Award for writing, I've long thought the media awards drag it out even more. Have you ever thought about giving those awards out at a luncheon – unless, of course, I'm lucky enough to win?
There has been consideration, but those awards mean a lot to the people who are receiving them, and their coverage means a lot to the industry. We have tightened up that part considerably from previous years. The whole media awards portion takes about five minutes.
Will you or someone else have a hook backstage in case a winner loses track of time?
We're not going to have to do that this year. We're going to have a band on the stage. It will play people onto the stage, and, if necessary, it will play people off the stage.
Let's discuss the voting procedures. Who votes for Eclipse Awards and is there any qualification process involved?
There are really four bodies represented. First, the Daily Racing Form has a bloc of voters selected by their editorial team. Then there are Equibase chart-callers who fall under the NTRA umbrella. Many from that group voted for years as Daily Racing Form chart-callers before Equibase was created. Then there are National Turf Writers and Broadcasters members who vote, and, finally, NTRA member and accredited racetrack racing secretaries. There are probably individuals in each of those distinct groups who are more knowledgeable and more qualified than others, but in all the different categories over the years, I think the 270-odd voters almost always have gotten it right.
What's the breakdown of voters by organization?
The largest group by far is the NTWAB, with Daily Racing Form and the NTRA together having less than 100 votes.
Does the NTRA ever disqualify or suspend voters if too many of their choices are illogical? For example, there have been votes in the turf category given to horses who never raced on turf.
We do have a post-mortem steering committee that discusses that kind of thing and the individual organization then handles any questions about voters. From time to time we have called individuals and asked them to explain their voting.
Who is on the Eclipse Awards steering committee?
There are two representatives from Daily Racing Form (Steven Crist and Mandy Minger), two from NTWAB (Tom Pedulla and Tom Law) and two from NTRA (and Jim Gluckson). There is another committee that selects the Award of Merit or Special Eclipse Award (Crist, Minger, Pedulla, Law, NTRA's Alex Waldrop and Breeders' Cup's Craig Fravel).
Why was the vote for outstanding breeder taken away from a committee and given to the entire voting body?
I think the steering committee questioned why that category was decided differently from the others, and it was put forward by at least one of the organizations that the vote should be done the same as the other categories.
Has there been consideration to set parameters for eligibility to win an Eclipse Award? Last year there were Horse of the Year votes for Rapid Redux, a claiming horse, and it's not unusual nowadays for a claiming stable to win outstanding owner.
From time to time there has been some discussion about whether or not there needs to be parameters for eligibility to receive an Eclipse Award. We'll discuss it again this year. Right now there are no parameters. It's an unwritten rule that a horse has to start on the mainland U.S. or Canada at least one time to be eligible to receive an Eclipse Award. But that's an unwritten rule. In all likelihood Frankel or Black Caviar may receive a vote or two or more this past year. We'll have to look at that this year and decide if it might be time to include some parameters along with a ballot this year.
There's also been discussion of an integrity clause, along the lines of the Baseball Hall of Fame, discussions about the apprentice category, and about the breeder category. We'll look at everything this year and make a decision about how to go forward. There's also been discussion about whether we should even provide a past performances supplement with statistics to voters.
What about a fan vote?
The idea of a fan vote comes up for discussion, too. There is now a fan's ballot online at DRF.com that we started last year and did again this year. More than 11,000 people participated in the voting each year. We are looking at the results to see if there are variances in the voting, and last year there were. It will continue to be discussed and something we need to consider.
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