ECLIPSED VOTING PROCESS

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick

Last week I wrote that if I had a vote in the Eclipse Awards, I'd cast my Horse of the Year ballot for unbeaten Breeders' Cup Classic winner Zenyatta. Well, I don't have a vote, and I have no one to blame but myself.


A little more than seven years ago, I resigned from the National Turf Writers Association, one of the voting groups for the Eclipse Awards. The other eligible voters are selected staff members of the Daily Racing Form; chartcallers for Equibase; and racing secretaries at National Thoroughbred Racing Association member tracks. There may be a handful of others, including some Breeders' Cup employees who have a vote.


I quit the National Turf Writers Association after the 2001 media Eclipse Awards were announced and then-NTWA president Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form unfairly, in my opinion, questioned the eligibility of a piece written by one of the winners, Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand, author of the best-selling book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” had previously won an Eclipse Award in 1998 for an article on Seabiscuit published in American Heritage magazine. Her 2001 award was for an original adaptation from the Seabiscuit book that appeared in Equus magazine.


As I recall, Privman, as NTWA president, sent an email to members criticizing the awarding of a second Eclipse to Hillenbrand and suggesting it was “unseemly” of her to even submit the piece for consideration. It was my understanding he was trying to have her stripped of the award.


I had never met Hillenbrand but admired her work, believing that her treatment of Seabiscuit (which was made into a wildly popular movie) was one of the biggest boosts in positive publicity Thoroughbred racing had received in many, many years. I even wrote that Hillenbrand be given an Eclipse Award of Merit, in part because of her personal circumstances: she was afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome and often struggled to even sit upright and work on her computer while writing the book.


I was offended by the tone of Privman's letter to NTWA members and asked several individuals on the board of directors to demand an apology or reprimand Privman for what I felt was an abuse of his office. When they did neither, I quit the organization.


Several years later, I asked an executive at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association if I could qualify to vote under the NTRA's umbrella. I was told “no,” and remained on the sidelines when it comes to voting for Eclipse Awards, something I did for nearly 20 years.


If I really wanted to vote for the Eclipse Awards, I could put aside my strong disagreement with Privman and the NTWA board and reapply for membership in that organization. I'm just not ready to do that.


But enough about me.


There are many others who should have a vote for Eclipse Awards and do not. They include numerous individuals who cover racing regularly or on a full-time basis for television and radio, including ESPN, TVG and HRTV. They aren't eligible because they aren't “turf writers.” This group includes knowledgeable individuals such as Steve Byk of Sirius satellite radio's “At the Races”; Carolyn Conley, Kurt Hoover and Jeff Siegel (among others) at HRTV; Bob Baedeker, Simon Bray and Todd Schrupp (among others) at TVG. It's incomprehensible that individuals like these do not have an Eclipse Awards vote. In fact, I think it's time to bring a public element to Eclipse Award voting in the same manner that Europe's Cartier Awards have done.


As the ranks of full-time turf writers diminishes, racing should take advantage of the growing list of knowledgeable individuals who make their living covering the sport for non-print media outlets. To ignore this reality is just the latest confirmation that the people who run this sport have their heads buried in a place where the light doesn't shine.

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  • Tiznowbaby

    Racing. Heads buried in the sand. Individuals viciously and jealously guarding their small bit (or large chunk) of power. Trying to summon some shock and surprise.

  • The biggest farce about the Eclipse Awards is that some of those with votes don’t follow the sport closely enough to cast their own ballots. I know of two individuals who fill out multiple ballots for pals who, correctly, realize that they are not qualified to do so. I find it disgraceful that anyone with the right to vote would not follow racing closely enough to make intelligent decisions on his/her own. But with only a handful of full-time turf writers outside of the trades, I suppose this goes with the territory. Frankly, I’m surprised that there even is a National Turf Writers Association with so little racing coverage in the mainstream press. It would seem that a Turf Media Association encompassing those who cover racing online, via TV and radio, etc… would be more appropriate.

  • Bob Hope

    Ray, this is a very timely and controversial piece to cast to the muddled and the confused with hopes to retrieve an unbiased and coherent response. You are overlooking the fact that many of the Alphabets are the polarized support system for the BC and have cast silent scorn on those that dare defy the acceptance of synthetic surfaces. Many are not armed with the historic values of our sport and it is unfair to involve them in debate and selection of historic perspective. They don’t know that they are compounding a felony committed earlier by a misguided decision to mandate experimental running surfaces. They don’t realize that little gathering of their peers who mitigated those drastic decisions of regulators run amuck by allowing the synthetic surface stakes to maintain their graded status. They didn’t take the time then or now, to question let alone challenge these judgements nor do they now or even consider the prospect of a “synthetic” class for consideration and reward. They do not even choose to analyse that the second and third finishers in the “classic” plus others in the field would not have entered on any other U.S. main dirt track and therefore would not have run in the classic. Nor will they next year! So based on this argument, Rachael Alexandra has no fair chance to defeat Zenyatta’s victory in this anachronistic creation of a “hybrid classic”. Because Jess Jackson chose not to run Rachael in the BC it will be “politically incorrect” by the alphabets to vote for her and against future threat of non participation. So now we will possibly be in the business of punishing or making champions because of their decisions to oppose or accept ridiculous or harmful decisions.

  • Romulous

    When you have people who vote that gamble a lot ,they seem to vote for the horse that didn’t cost them a few bucks. Having TVG idiots vote would be that case. TVG has become the Red Cross for trainers that can’t make it anyway. If thats the case let all trainers vote. You make some good points on others. I take it your not having Thanks giving dinner with Jay Priveman.

  • D. Masters

    Ahhh…the debate that is the Eclipse awards. Kind of symptomatic of the US industry as a whole. Many great horses, many great records and they will be reduced by the acid that is the human mindset and influence….or would that be the humans that have “the right” to vote.

    Ray/Brad, good commentary/post. I am so saddened by the loss of Frankel. I know he had many fans AND detractors. I hope you do a PR post so some that follow here can state their thoughts…the facist trade rags frequently allow no comments. Here at PR, it is a breath of fresh air.

  • Romulous

    Rachel would have had a hard time against all those turf horses and anti speed bias track. The Sprint went first quarter in 21.4 because jockeys were afraid to let there horses run early. Zenyatta put on great show but at the end of the day Rachel put on multiple great shows. Tough call.

  • I believe voting should be more inclusive. However, we need to bring in to the voting process knowledgeable fans from bona fide fan organizations or groups. These could be stand alone groups or groups that are affiliated with tracks. Because of legal pari-mutual wagering fans are more than spectators in our sport; they are stakeholders like owners, trainer, horseman, media, etc.

  • Marianna Haun

    Ray…As former Eclipse voter myself, I agree wih you. Having come from a broadcast and newspaper background, I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t allow broadcast journalists to vote. I remember being especially incensed that someone like John Asher, who had a great radio show on racing and was one of the most informed people in racing wasn’t allowed to vote. It is long past time to change the rules and allow the broadcast people into the tent. My vote for Horse of the Year would also be Zenyatta. What she accomplished on the track and for racing is beyond compare. ..Marianna Haun

  • A. Juell

    Happy Monday Ray. That’s one of the costs of firing those shots across the bow. Been there, done that. I think we both know the difference between ‘words’ and ‘action.’ Many folks tend to agree with what someone is saying but only in private. I resigned from an organization I helped found, primarily because I couldn’t see ‘professional’ and ‘maybe’ in the same sentence. If you hold on to your integrity you will, in this culture, pay the price of admission.
    I do agree about outside (the print media — what’s left of it) having a vote. Information sources have changed and the knowledge has shifted. In this age, the media itself is being redefined. And if I remember correctly, awards ARE about positive contributions to the whole. Yeah i know. I’m such a sap.

  • Cgriff

    I saw that Steve Haskin called for a breakdown analysis of where the voters for the Eclipses were geographically – which I think is a great call, since East Coast/West Coast biases are quite real.

    I totally agree that the vote should be opened up to non print journalists. I can’t believe it hasn’t happened as yet, to be honest. More casual fans get their stories from TV then they do in print – at least as far as the general public goes.

    Good opinion piece, Ray.

  • Ray Chatsworth

    Considering the growing number of “turf writers” now consigned to internet blogging, it seems the highly qualified broadcasters you listed above simply need to contribute something in print someplace (Like TVG’s community blog or HRTV’s website) and they would become eligible for the NTWA. A cursory glance at the 2007 NTWA directory finds dozens of “writers” who are actually broadcasters or publicists. Membership being what it is, it’s doubtful the qualified people you mentioned would have trouble finding nominators and votes.

  • I agree totally with you, the whole thing. The people that make a living with thoroughbred racing, whether with the horses themselves or being on TV, Radio or blogging should have a say in the voting. Great article.

  • John S.

    My suggestion would be to rejoin the turf writers and then lobby and lay the foundation for the creation of a broadcast division. I think there might be room for that, and I would probably vote for it if set up properly. It’s fine to agitate from the outside but likely more effective in this instance to work in concert from within. Jay Privman is a presence you would just have to deal with.

  • Paul

    Ray, I’d like to see a way that fans could be involved in a certain percentage of the vote, both for Eclipse Awards and also the Hall of Fame. But the latter is a complicated matter with its own set of issues. However, without the horses, owners, and fans, we wouldn’t have a sport.

  • Patrick

    Be honest. Hillenbrand won two Eclipses for essentially the same material three years apart. Reminds me of when Paul Simon won a Grammy for the album “Graceland” and then the next year won another for the title track to the album. A little ridiculous? Certainly. You can argue with Privman’s methods, but he had a legitimate beef.

    While Hillenbrand’s work was certainly well received, she was far from the most knowledgable ambassador for the sport, which we need more of. I recall her going on national TV prior to the 2002 Belmont Stakes and proclaiming that of course War Emblem would sweep the Triple Crown. And why did she believe that?

    “Because he has character.”

  • Noelle

    Following up on Roger’s comment, why wait for the NTWA to wake up and smell the internet?

    The outsiders could start a new association, inclusive of credible turf writers (print or online), broadcasters and bloggers, and institute its own awards program.

    I googled some of the people I’d never heard of from the NTWA membership list – couldn’t find links to anything published by some of them even when I coupled their names with the word “horse” whereas a similar search using Kurt Hoover’s or Simon Bray’s name brought up plenty of racing related results.

  • Richard Coreno

    Any person involved for five minutes in many of these “turf” organizations – whether at the state or national levels – will understand quickly the sordid politics involved to keep control at all costs….to further the agenda of the few at the expense of the sport itself. There is no end in sight of this culture of sycophants, but the industry sinks further and further into utter irrelevance. To expand the vote through “non-traditional” media outlets is a step that will never be taken; it would open up debates to new questions, while those in control have the same old questions.

  • John from Keeneland

    If there were a vote able to be cast for a split Eclipse Award between Rachel and Zenyatta, I believe both horses deserve to receive HOY honors, but as it stands now there will have to be a “loser.” What both of these fine horses have done to re-invigorate an otherwise lackluster industry is beyond compare, and to say that one is better than the other takes away from the one not voted for’s contribution at a time when horse racing needs all of the friends it can get. I say there should be the ability to vote for a split HOY honor this year, because never have there been two more deserving candidates. I vote for a “dead-heat”.

  • blacktieaffair

    One of the dirty little secrets of the NTWA is that its members basically buy the right to vote for the Eclipse Awards by paying their dues. There are some members who cover racing regularly and are very deserving of the right to vote; others, not so much. (Google search a couple of the freelancers and see how often their bylines appear anywhere).

    I’m not aware of any Breeders’ Cup employees who would vote, Ray. Why would they? The three blocks are NTWA, DRF employees (presumably editors and writers and not the sales staff) and the NTRA block, which is racing secretaries at NTRA member tracks and Equibase chart-callers.

    But, since the NTRA, DRF and NTWA jointly present and administer the Eclipse Awards, they get to make the rules.

  • Ray Paulick

    Blacktieaffair…Some Breeders’ Cup racing department staff have had votes in the past…it’s possible the eligibillity was eliminated when the BC and NTRA “divorced” a couple years back. I’m not aware of the NTRA ever publishing its list of eligible voters (or how they vote). I don’t think DRF publishes who its voters are, either. The NTWA does publish how its members vote, which is usually good for a laugh or two (see http://www.paulickreport.com/blog/who-actually-voted-for-tale-of-ekati/)

  • Vicki

    My biggest complaint about the Eclipse awards has been the East Coast bias over the years. Just look at all the on line polls the last few years, there would have been several different winners than who the actual Eclipse award went to in several catagories. I’m all for the inclusion of the “new age” journalist in the Eclipse voting process, let’s face it there are very few actual turf writers covering the sport year round. Most of us get our information on line and via the horse racing television channels, newspaper and magazines are just too slow to wait for news from them anymore. Our local newspaper carries a weekly horse racing column on Thursdays, information has to be received by the paper I believe on Monday to be printed, by the time I read it in the paper it is old news I read a week ago on line. The times have changed and the Eclipse voting process needs to change too!

  • Don Reed

    Ray, you did the right thing. If it hadn’t cost you, down the road, it wouldn’t have been worth doing.

    Privman’s stunt has been forgotten. It is greatly appreciated that the story has been re-publicized; many of us are reading about it for the first time.

    I would amend your statement, which reads:

    “…Her treatment of Seabiscuit…was one of the biggest boosts in positive publicity Thoroughbred racing had received in many, many years.”

    The above should be an emphatic statement – as decisive & unequivocal as your resignation from NTWA.

    NOT ONE BOOK written in the past 50 years has had the impact on Thoroughbred racing that Laura Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit” created in 2001.

    Restated: “Seabiscuit” has had the greatest impact of any book published about racing in half a century. NO OTHER COMPETING BOOK has even come close.

    Millions of copies of SB were sold. The vast majority of those who bought the book weren’t even racing fans, but knew how to distinguish the best from all the rest.

    (The rest, of course, would include Privman’s “Breeders’ Cup, Thoroughbred Racing’s Championship Day” 2000, which will now have a copy of your “resignation” story inserted into it, before it is reshelved, as a reminder of the childishness exhibited by a minority of her colleagues.)

    The success of the book created the success of the movie, and both undoubtedly attracted people – who otherwise would not have been motivated – to go to race tracks.

    This does not imply that gifted writers – among them, Ann H. Auerbach; Bill Barich; Brendan Boyd & Henry Horenstein; Steve Crist; Dave Feldman; Bill Heller; Mike Helm; Jason Levin; William Murray; Sidney Offit; T.D. Thornton; & Max Watman – should not be respected for having made the effort to try to match Hillebrand’s achievement (writing their respective excellent books that fell short of attaining the commercial success enjoyed by “Seabiscuit”).

    But LH is in an undisputed league of her own, and today, still deserves to be honored with an Eclipse Award of Merit.

    However, if President Obama were to present her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – in recognition of her overcoming the almost impossible odds of her success – that would be even more appropriate, and greatly appreciated.

    If we were really to get lucky, his employer would send Privman to the White House to attend & consequently write the story about the event.

  • I think most of the eclipse award voters already had their mind’s made up before the Breeders Cup Classic was ever run. But I think most never expected that Zenyatta would ultimately give the historical performance that she did in winning the Classic. This is a tough debate. No doubt about it. Both have accomplished a lot this year. But twenty year’s from now, some thoroughbred publication writer who is just a kid right now, is going to look back on 2009 and say “how in the world could a mare that won the world championship of racing against the best available 3yr.old and older colt’s in the world, ending her career and retiring undefeated have been denied being given HOY?” That’s the dilemma that we’ll be faced with if Zenyatta does not win HOY honors.

  • Vic Stauffer

    Thanks for writing about Jay Privman and his continuing inapropriate behaviour. I was also personally effected by his agendas and bias. A few years back I submitted a radio feature that I wrote, produced (along with Kip Hannon) and narrated. It was a tribute to the great Laffit Pincay Jr. We submitted it for Eclipse consideration and WON! 2nd Eclipse for me and first for Kip. We were thrilled. When it aired it I made a small facutal error regarding the date of a certain incident. I played it for Jay who at the time was masquerading as my friend and collleague. He pointed out the mistake and suggested we re-air the segment correcting the error. I explained to him that since it centered around Laffit’s birthday that would not work. He understood and said that he loved the tribute despite the error. Little did we know that Jay was laying in wait to try to have our award recinded. Both he and Jennie Rees a racing writer from Louisville launched a behind the scenes campaign to have our Eclipse taken away. Letters were sent to the membership of the National Turf Writers ( not well recieved by the rank and file)and pressure was put on Keith Chamblain of the NTRA contending that both Kip and I had acted fraudulently by submitting the piece knowing there was an error. Only one problem. Neither of them had any official say over the voting or certification process. They simply took it upon themeselves to interject their opinion in a matter they had no juristiction over. It caused such a firestorm that Chamblain and the NTRA panicked. They re-opened the voting ,which there was totally no protocol for. Ultimately a radio station in Baltimore (WBAL) was also given the Eclipse and two awards were presented that year. In my opinion Privman who at the time was very close friends with Kip Hannon (that ended) couldn’t see past his long standing disdain for me and felt compelled to take this action. Knowing full well that it couldn’t be in the best interest of our sport. The Eclipse awards are a time to rejoice all that is good about horseracing. Not a venue to let petty jealousy and longtime misguided hatred sully the celebration. Oh BTW at the time Privman had a competing radio show in the very same market that our piece aired and ultimately won. Perhaps a case of “production envy”?
    I could give you ten other examples of his pettiness involing myself and others but I don’t feel like wasting more of my time thinking about such a sad, vindictive, jealous person. Thanks for having the courage to walk away from him as well and follow the same path myself and many others have chosen. Vic Stauffer

  • Bill Finley

    Ray is absolutely right when he says voting should be opened up to people who aren’t traditional racing writers. As the number of turf writers dwindles every year, the time is now to bring in all the knowledgeable TV/radio, etc. people who have been left out. And this is coming from a traditional horseracing wrtiter who used to think differently. The world has changed. Let these people in.

  • Don Reed

    Watch out, Vic. Privman’s surreptitious campaign for his own Presidential Medal of Freedom is already in motion (you’ve been used as a reference!).

    Does this remind anyone of the infamous Frazier “TV Awards” episode?

    A reminder: The racing media awards discussed above mean absolutely nothing to 98% of the American public. It is as if all of this unseemly infighting is taking place on a tiny atoll, somewhere in the South Pacific.

  • john greathouse

    go back to the old days…racing sec’s voted…they got no dog in the fight

  • gangbuster

    racing secs, media, and the real horsemen(trainers and jockeys) should vote…..why are the horsemen left out?? if this were the case, zenyatta wins easily….this ray paulick dude is always on the money with issues!!

  • Vic Stauffer

    I completely agree with Bill Finley. I believe there are many avid fans and students of the game that are not turf writers, racing secretarys or chart callers. Horseracing unquestionably has become a multi media sport. Salient contributions could come from radio or TV hosts. Paddock commentators. Track announcers and what about the racing fans themselves? Why can’t we find a way to let them have a voice? Also why can’t horsemen contribute? Baseball players vote amongst themselves for Gold Gloves. Love to see lots of changes made.

  • Joe

    Why should Zenyatta be HOY? Because voters should judge her entire racing career and the fact that some already believed last year that she deserved that honor.

    Z is retiring and Rachel’s owners will have a chance to win it next year especially if Mike Smith rides her gently and protects her energy and heart from one race to the next, though I realize that’s a lame excuse. Still, Zenyatta won her races without the “urging” Rachel endured in several of her races. The owners of the best managed, least “urged” filly/mare deserve extra votes for HOY this year.

    Last but not least and still fishing for extra votes for Z, in order to aim for better, cleaner racing, especially in a tight HOY race, the winner should be the filly/mare whose trainer has the shortest rap sheet.

  • Freespirit

    It does seem like the honor of being able to vote in the eclipse voting is limited to so few, it just doesn’t seem right.
    I loved what John Horton wrote, excellent!
    And Jay Privman – sounds like an idiot who has way too much power.

  • Garrett Redmond

    By this time, everyone in any aspect of T’bred business should know it is not possible to change any part of the Old Order/Establishment. So, it makes good sense to follow the suggestion of Noelle (16).

    It is fairly simple for the dissatisfied and disenfranchised to set up a competing award. There are Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards.

    It needs someone with youth, energy and organizational abilities to start the movement.

    One other suggestion. Hold the ceremonials in the year for which the honors are awarded.

  • Laura Hillenbrand

    Thanks for a great piece, Ray, for your kind words, and for standing up for me.

    The contention that I submitted the same piece twice is completely false, and is obvious to anyone who reads the two pieces. The 1998 piece was a huge article that covered the lives of Seabiscuit’s trainer, owner, and jockeys, the era of racing in the Great Depression and the early history of the automobile, and Seabiscuit’s entire life. The 2001 piece was an extremely detailed, moment-by-moment examination of the Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race, and resulted from several years of intensive and exhaustive research, involving dozens of interviews and perhaps 100 other sources, done after the first piece. They are two very different articles, and the Eclipse voters obviously knew that.

    Had Privman simply read my 2001 article, he would have immediately known that my two articles were dramatically different, but he admitted that he did not read it. He made no effort to speak to me prior to making his accusations, and made no attempt to see if those accusations were accurate. Yet he nonetheless sent out his newsletter piece to all of my colleagues, calling me “unseemly.” When I read what he had written, I was extremely distressed and contacted him, as did one of the NTWA board members. He was unapologetic, and refused to allow me to respond to his readers until after the Eclipse Awards ceremony, so I had to receive the award under a cloud of controversy that I had done nothing to deserve. His justification was that he had to keep the newsletter on a strict schedule, but when he finally did publish my response, the newsletter was weeks late, leaving me to hang even longer.

    This was by far the most painful experience of my professional life, and it is still very difficult for me to think of. I have never understood why Privman, someone I had never met, tried so hard to ruin my reputation. It would have been a great relief to me to receive an apology, even a private one, from Privman had he offered one, but he never did.

    Laura Hillenbrand

  • Halle

    Vic Stauffer writes:

    “I could give you ten other examples of [Privman’s] pettiness involving myself and others but I don’t feel like wasting more of my time thinking about such a sad, vindictive, jealous person.”

    That’s it, Vic. Don’t list your examples. Just get the charge out there in a way that makes it impossible for someone to defend himself.

  • Patrick

    To clarify my post from yesterday, I was not accusing Ms. Hillenbrand of submitting the same piece twice for Eclipse Award consideration. That’s technically not true. However, the general subject matter for both pieces was the same: Seabiscuit. (Roughly 12 paragraphs of the American Heritage piece was on the 1938 Pimlico Special, the exclusive topic of Hillenbrand’s 2001 piece).

    I don’t know Mr. Privman, but I presume he had no beef with Hillenbrand winning the Eclipse in 1998 as no one has provided anecdotal evidence to the contrary. It appears he did have objections to giving another award to the same writer for a piece covering the same general topic that was recognized three years before. The arguable validity of Privman’s concerns and the way he handled his objection are two entirely different topics for discussion, and as his behavior doesn’t affect me personally I found the former more worthy to comment on.

  • Vic Stauffer

    Halle

    I understand what you’re saying. It probably wasn’t neccessary to include that line without being specific. It’s just that when you’re attacked without provocation for many years it’s human nature to want to lash back. To speak of the other incidents would put good and innocent people in difficult, uncomfortable positions that wouldn’t be fair to them. I posted here because the Eclipse was a situation that directly effected me. The rest in retrospect I probably could have left alone.

  • EUGENE LEVEY

    VIC…I LIKE YOUR CALLING..I HAVE BEEN AROUND A LONG LONG TIME…

    THAT GUY MAYBE CANT READ AT ALL..TOO MANY PEOPLE HAVE TROUBLE WITH HIM..

    I HEARD SOME TIME AGO THAT HE IS A LOOSE HORSE

  • Don Reed

    One more post, and we’ve resurrected the “PEB controversy”!

    Laura, thanks for your statement – and thanks for Seabiscuit.

  • Champions should be decided by a designated handicapper paid by The Jockey Club, as is done is most racing countries. Awards should be determined on merit, not on ulterior motives. The Eclipse Award are akin to the People’s Choice Awards and about as meaningful.

  • Jay Privman

    A post by Ray Paulick on Monday, and subsequent responses from readers, has called into question my integrity and motives in several instances. In order of those posts, beginning with Paulick’s original piece, I would like to respond with facts.

    Paulick writes that he resigned from the NTWA because I “questioned the eligibility” of a piece written by Laura Hillenbrand. That is not true. I never questioned its eligibility. Paulick writes that I suggested it was “unseemly” of her to submit the piece. That is true. As to why, please refer to the actual passages from the NTWA newsletter of January 2002, re-printed at the end of this post. My capacity, as the then-president of the NTWA, one of the three sponsoring organizations of the Eclipse Awards, was to make sure the rules were followed, and to suggest improvements where necessary.

    Paulick also writes that it was his “understanding” I was “trying to have her stripped of the award.” That is not true, which Paulick would have known had he read the original material before writing his story. I never attempted to have the award stripped, not then, not ever. As you can see from the original material re-published below, I in fact said what Hillenbrand did was “absolutely” legal under the current rules. And at that year’s Eclipse Awards, I presented Hillenbrand’s trophy to her boyfriend, as she was not in attendance.

    Paulick writes that Hillenbrand’s book on Seabiscuit “was one of the biggest boosts of positive publicity” that racing has received, and that he believed she should “be given an Eclipse Award of Merit.” I agree on both counts. But that has nothing to do with the Eclipse Award for writing.

    Paulick writes that if he “really wanted to vote for the Eclipse Awards, I could put aside my strong disagreement with Privman and the NTWA board and reapply for membership in that organization.” My term as president expired in May 2002 — more than seven years ago — and only one member of the current NTWA board was on the board in 2002.

    A subsequent response from Don Reed says that “NOT ONE BOOK written in the past 50 years has had the impact on Thoroughbred racing that Laura Hillenbrand’s “Seabiscuit” created in 2001.” I agree. But, again, that has nothing to do with the Eclipse Awards for writing.

    A subsequent post from Vic Stauffer recounts his version of events regarding an Eclipse Award submission he made for a radio feature on Laffit Pincay Jr. a few years ago. Stauffer writes that “when it aired it made a small factual error regarding the date of a certain incident.” The feature on Pincay recounted his career and told of the many setbacks he had overcome in his career. The “small factual error” was, in fact, saying that Pincay had won the Kentucky Derby in 1984 AFTER his wife’s suicide. In fact, Pincay won the Derby before his wife committed suicide.

    Stauffer says he played the piece for me and that I was “masquerading” as his friend. In fact, Stauffer sought me out that summer at Hollywood Park and asked me to listen to the piece and offer feedback. When I heard the error, I told Stauffer he should not submit the piece because of the error. I suggested he re-record it, fixing that one error, have the piece aired, and resubmit it. In his post, Stauffer claims that the piece could not be redone because it centered on Pincay’s birthday, and that I “understood” and “loved the tribute despite the error.” That is not true. I loved the tribute, but the error was egregious, a major plot point in a story focusing on what Pincay had overcome. To say he had bounced back from his wife’s suicide to win the Derby, when in fact that is not true, is, to me, a gross error that should disqualify a piece from being entered in the highest awards the sport has to offer. The birthday aspect is a red herring; a tribute to Pincay can be made evergreen.

    To say I was “laying in wait to try and have our reward recinded(sic)” is preposterous. Had the error been corrected, and the piece re-aired, there would have been zero controversy. Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal can verify all of this, as it was she, in her capacity as president of the NTWA at the time, who brought the matter to the attention of the other two sponsoring organizations of the Eclipse Awards.

    Ultimately, as Stauffer writes, WBAL in Baltimore was also awarded an Eclipse Award. That is a significant aspect for readers to remember. When someone wins an Eclipse Award, others lose. Though I had no say in the decision, since I was no longer president of the NTWA, I believe it would have been unfair for WBAL to be denied an Eclipse Award under these circumstances. The organizations must be fair to all who submit awards, and WBAL was in a compromised position.

    Stauffer writes that I “had a competing radio show in the very same market that our piece aired and ultimately won,” the obvious insinuation being I was jealous he had won. In fact, I still have a radio show, and in all the years I have had the radio show, I have NEVER submitted it for an Eclipse Award. In addition, the person who owns the show on which Stauffer’s piece aired, Mike Willman, is now my partner in the radio show.

    What galls me most is that I truly tried to help Stauffer initially. I listened to the piece, caught the error, and told him how to correct it and submit it for an Eclipse Award. File under “no good deed goes unpunished.”

    A subsequent post from Laura Hillenbrand says that had I “simply read” her 2001 article, I would have “immediately known” that the two articles were “dramatically different,” but that I “admitted” that I “did not read it.” That is not an accurate portrayal of the situation. As you can see from the material re-published below, the issue was also over book material being republished in a magazine, whether that was appropriate, and the differences in those pieces. I do admit to not having read the whole 2001 magazine piece. You will understand why when you read the supporting material below.

    Hillenbrand says I made “no effort to spreak” to her “prior to making” my accusations. That is true, she is right, and it is something I regret.

    Hillenbrand says that after reading what I had written, she “contacted” me, “as did one of the NTWA board members.” That is not true. She never contacted me. And none of the board members from that time contacted me regarding her. She writes I was “unapologetic, and refused to allow me to respond until after the Eclipse Awards ceremony.” I never spoke to her, so to say I was unapologetic to her is bizarre. And in no way did I “refuse” to allow her to respond until after the Eclipse Awards ceremony. She says my justification for this supposed delay was that the newsletter was on a “strict schedule,” and that her response was published “weeks late.” This is not true. The newsletter came out once a month, and her response was published in the next newsletter immediately following her submission.

    Thank you for reading this reply.

    Below is the original material from the January 2002 NTWA newsletter. I was the author of both items:

    HILLENBRAND ECLIPSE CONTROVERSY

    Questions have been raised with the NTRA over the winning “features/enterprise” entry submitted by Laura Hillenbrand. A number of NTWA members contacted officers and directors to express their concern that the entry should not have been allowed. After examining the evidence, we contacted the NTRA’s Peg Hendershot, who coordinates
    all Eclipse Award media submissions, and expressed our concerns.

    Specifically, it was conveyed by the NTWA that either book entries, or excerpts from books, should not be allowed, since the rules state the submissions must be from paid-circulation publications, or an affiliated Internet site. Hendershot pointed out that nothing in the rules specifically bars book excerpts that are also published in paid-circulation publications. We countered that that might be the letter of the rule, but certainly not the spirit of the rule. Hendershot said she was following the rules as written, and that if we wanted to close a loophole, she was amenable, and that it should be done via the Eclipse Award steering committee, on which the NTWA’s president and vice-president sit, along with members of the NTRA and Daily Racing Form. We assure you that loophole will be closed in the future.

    One of the problems is this: as The Blood-Horse’s Lenny Shulman pointed out in an e-mail, what is to stop a book author from submitting one chapter from a book to a magazine, year after year, in an attempt to win an Eclipse Award for each chapter? Based on this precedent, it could be done. So, we will tighten this up.

    I can honestly say I never in my wildest dreams thought someone would submit a book chapter for an Eclipse Award for magazine writing.

    P.S. — We also asked Hendershot that honorable mentions be included in all future press releases regarding all Eclipse Award media winners, be it for print, television, or radio. We thought that had been established prior to this year, but it was not included in this year’s press releases. Hendershot assures it will be included in the future.

    PERSONAL THOUGHTS FROM PRIVMAN RE: HILLENBRAND

    I do not want anyone to think the following speaks for the NTWA as a whole. But I simply want to express some thoughts on this matter, and encourage your response, be it positive or negative.

    Laura Hillenbrand’s book has received numerous accolades, and has exposed the sport to millions who might otherwise have never been interested. For that, she is to be commended.

    However, I find it disturbing that a person who won an Eclipse Award for a story on Seabiscuit three years ago for a piece in another magazine, submitted material on the same subject, in a different magazine, in another attempt to win an Eclipse Award. Was that legal? Absolutely. But I find it unseemly.

    More disturbing, however, is this: the NTRA, in its press release, said the winning magazine submission was an “original adaptation” commissioned for Equus. Fine. But what it really amounts to is reconstituted matter from the book. It’s almost verbatim, yet abbreviated in some areas. And the winning entry calls into question the thoroughness of Hillenbrand’s work. I only read the first page of the magazine piece, but was most disturbed by finding material that appeared taken from the book, yet was re-worked and, alarmingly, did not match exactly.

    For instance, on page 217 of the book, a story is related about jockey Red Pollard meeting up with an old friend, “owner Bert Blume,” and a tale ensues regarding a horse named Modern Youth. Yet in the magazine piece, on page 81, Pollard is said to be “chatting with a local trainer” regarding Modern Youth. Both magazine and book go on to relate how Pollard worked Modern Youth, either for Blume (in the book) or the “local trainer” (in the magazine). The workout goes awry. Pollard is injured.

    This is the book’s version of the incident, on page 218: “A sickening noise ran down the long line of barns. It was Pollard. He was sceaming. His right leg was nearly sheared off below the knee.”

    This is the magazine’s version of the incident, again on page 81: “A sickening noise ran down the backstretch. It was Pollard, screaming. His lower left leg had been nearly sheared off.”

    Right leg? Left leg? I did not read any further in the magazine piece.

    –the end–

  • EUGENE LEVEY

    I WAS AN EXTRA IN THE SEABISCUIT MOVIE….I FLEW OUT FROM TAMPA AS I WAS INVITED. THE LAST DAY OF THE SHOOTING > THE 1940 “SANTA ANITA HDCP” TOOK PLACE…BEING 80 YRS OLD I MAY NOT GET THE FOLLOWING 100% BUT I AM QUITE SURE THAT THERE WAS ONLY 8 0R 9 HORSES IN THE FIELD THAT WAS FILMED THAT DAY BUT I KNOW 100% FOR SURE THAT THE REAL FIELD BACK IN 1940 THERE WERE 13 STARTERS IN THAT RACE……NOW, I DIDNT COMPLAIN OR RUN AROUND TELLING EVERYONE I KNOW & DID’NT KNOW THAT THERE WAS A BIG , BIG MISTAKE IN ONE OF THE VERY MOST OR THE MOST IMPORTANT SCENE IN THE WHOLE PICTURE..
    WHAT I TRYING TO STATE IS NOTHING IS PERFECT IN LIFE. YOU FOLKS REMEMBER THIS: IN LIFE>>THERE IS A REASON FOR EVERYTHING…..
    NOW THAT I AM FINISHED, AS YOU CAN SEE THAT I AM NOT A WRITER & DID THE BEST I COULD TO STICK MY 2 CENTS IN THE SOUP….THE ONLY THING THAT I WAS REALY SATISFIED WITH, WAS DURING THE TRIP, I TOOK A LITTLE TIME TO CHECK OUT “VINDICATION” FOR SATISH….

  • Kate

    Thank you Mr Privman for erasing any doubts I had after reading this blog. You did a better job of showing your petty-coat than Paulick or Stouffer did.

  • I want to set the record straight regarding Vic Stauffer’s posting in response to your column on the Eclipse Awards.
    First and foremost: When did accuracy become optional in journalism?
    And make no mistake, that was entirely what d’affair Stauffer was about. Not personalities, not agendas. Not a “small factual error regarding the date of a certain incident,” as Mr. Stauffer claims.
    Rather it was an egregious inaccuracy which played a pivotal role in his radio feature on Laffit Pincay. Stauffer reported that Pincay’s wife had died before he won the 1984 Kentucky Derby, which was not true. Yet part of the feature was based on that erroneous premise.
    This is not getting the age of a person wrong by a year, or having a wrong date on a horse race. This was a substantive error.
    And while I’m sure it was not intentionally made, once it was brought to the author’s attention – as was the case here – any self-respecting journalist would understand it was a flaw that had to be corrected and the piece re-aired before submitting it for an award signifying excellence, or not submitted at all.
    For Mr. Stauffer to be made aware of the mistake and think so little of the premise of journalistic integrity that he went on and entered it for an Eclipse Award was appalling, in my view.
    Mr. Stauffer then writes of Jay Privman and myself, “Neither of them had any official say over the voting or certification process. They simply took it upon themeselves (sic) to interject their opinion in a matter they had no juristiction (sic) over.”
    I was president of the National Turf Writers Association at that time, and therefore a member of the Eclipse steering committee, as was the NTWA vice president, Mike Kane.
    But never mind our role as NTWA officers. Anyone who cares about journalistic integrity has the standing to raise questions in a matter such as this.
    When made aware that Mr. Stauffer’s Laffit Pincay feature had been judged No. 1 in the radio category but contained such a fundamental error, Mike and I felt strongly that the situation mandated discussion with the other Eclipse committee members. The committee agreed that the judges deserved to be informed of the error, and let them re-vote according to their personal standards and conscience.
    As I recall, one judge took Mr. Stauffer’s piece out of his top three. Another kept him on top. Another moved him down to third. That made it a tie with WBAL, and two awards were given.
    This was all made before the radio Eclipse winners had been made public. Mr. Stauffer’s account of the events that transpired is simply not correct.
    Mr. Stauffer writes that his disqualification to co-winner “couldn’t be in the best interest of our sport.” So flawed journalism is?
    He writes, “the Eclipse awards are a time to rejoice all that is good about horseracing.”
    Actually, the Eclipse media awards are a time to recognize outstanding journalistic performances, of which accuracy is an intrinsic component.
    This was not about “petty jealousy” but upholding journalistic standards, which I’d think everybody in the industry would appreciate.

    Jennie Rees
    The (Louisville) Courier-Journal

  • Indulto

    Truth and accuracy are prized in journalism as are judgment and action in leadership. Standing up for what one believes is right is always admirable, but can often be costly. Playing by the rules shouldn’t be optional, but sometime bad laws must be broken to correct them.

    Ms. Hillenbrand’s book was indeed a joy to read and a worthy accomplishment deserving of reward and promotion. Knowing that she overcame personal obstacles to complete an inspiring story about courage added yet another dimension to this reader’s experience.

    Unfortunately, each writing award is intended for only one accomplishment at a time, and the more individuals receiving one overall, the more exposure racing gets. So it behooves the gate keepers to stay vigilant subject to appropriate oversight.

    I suspect there’s more to all the related stories than have surfaced so far. The only thing we can be sure of is that own-foot-shooting bulls-eyes have been achieved by all involved. If journalistic integrity had been the primary consideration of all turf writers, perhaps the declines in racing’s integrity and its financial well-being might have been avoided.

    Frankly, I’d rather see Mr. Paulick receive an Eclipse Award than vote on one. Would we even be enjoying such fascinating exchanges on these pages today if he still were?

  • Sean

    Its pretty evident that the Eclipse award hold no water… they are run by the NTRA which will no longer be around after 2011. They are running out of money thanks to Alex Waldrop making 300k a year doing. Its a sham!

  • Vic Stauffer

    Jennie

    I’m not a journlaist. Never have been never want to be. I’m simply a lover of horseracing and a huge fan of Lafitt Pincay. My feature was produced to honor him and hopefully let fans enjoy a story about a great hero. Journalistic integrity is something that’s important to you and Privman that’s your line. Less so for me because I have a different motivation. I just want to share my passion and love for our sport. I’ve asked hundredsof people including Laffit himself if they thought less of the piece because of the error. None cared. The vast majority of the voters didn’t care either but you and Jay did. I don’t get it. Do I regret the error. Sure. Just like if I make a mistake in one of my race calls. Which Jay loves to recount on his radio show. Do you actually think mine is the only award that has ever had an error in it? I’ll never understand why you and Jay felt you needed to be the conscience of the industry. There was no protocol in place for the NTWA to issue a formal challenge yet you both in my opinion overstepped your bounds and interjected your personal view when there was no official forum for that. The Eclipse awards are about excellence. The voters felt it was just that. Could it have been better. Of course. It could have been perfect. It wasn’t. I regret that. To lovers of Laffit and our sport I guess it was close enough.

  • Chilli Most

    This is great stuff. A bunch of racing know-it-alls duking it out on a public web page. LOL. I love it. You guys are classic. You should go old school, and throw yourselves into a stall on the backside and slug it out!!

  • Patrick

    Vic, you’re in so deep now I don’t think you could climb out if you wanted to.

  • Halle

    How about loving the sport enough to do the work necessary to report on it accurately and to fix mistakes when they are made? Does this require a lot of energy? Of course. But there seems to be no shortage of reporter energy when it comes to haggling over awards and venting grudges.

  • Vic Stauffer

    The tribute centered around Laffit’s birthday. It played the day before. I could have fixed the error but I could not have re-aired it. It was 11 minutes long and it would have been stupid to play a birthday celebration weeks after the fact. As for venting grudges I’m simply recounting the chronology of what happened. Privman and Rees were the genesis of the controversy. Kip and I just responded and attempted to protect our position.

    Let me make another thing clear. I have no personal problem with Jennie Rees. Although I strongly disagree with her opinion on this mattter. She never has taken any personal shots at me. I greatly admire the excellent work she does for the Courier-Journal. When I see her in the press boxes around the country she’s always pleasant and respectful. Ironically it was Jennie herself that presented Kip and myself with the award that year and I felt she handled the situation with class and dignity.

  • Halle

    The genesis of the controversy was your mistake about the timing of a suicide, Vic, and the genesis of my thinking a grudge is at work here was your effrontery in calling this mistake “minor.” As for replaying the Pincay piece, Laffit is worthy of honor 365 days a year. You could not have rewritten the piece? Surely this would have required only “minor” work.

  • Vic Stauffer

    No one ever. Then or now had a problem with the mistake other than Rees and Privman. Of course I could have re-written the piece. I could have made an entirely new and different piece. As I stated before I could have gone back and corrected it but to be eligible for Eclipse consideration it has to appear on an over the airways radio station. The biggest story line was his impending birthday the very next day. It would have sounded stupid to present that several weeks after the fact. You thinking about a grudge is quite correct. In my opinion Privman has had a personal vendetta against me for many many years. Why? I do not know. His words and actions have proved that many times. Do I have a grudge against him? Of course I do. I completely dislike the guy. As for Rees. I have absolutely no grudge. I strongly disagree with her opinion on this matter. At the same time I respect her right to have it. As I stated before I think she does a great job and admire her work.

  • Patrick

    Everyone agreed the politics of self-destruction is at work here?

  • Chilli Most

    Vic, should’nt you be making phone calls to get your jock more business, and also dealing with a matter regarding a horse named Cedros? WTF are you doing up here bickering with people over historical events? Get it together man.

  • James

    Merriam-Webster Online defines “unseemly” as: not according with established standards of good form or taste. As a synonym it furthers the definition: unseemly adds a suggestion of special inappropriateness to a situation or an offensiveness to good taste.

    Sounds like Mr. Privman has his own “errors” – with the English language.

    To label Ms. Hillenbrand’s 2001 submission with “special inappropriateness” would be akin to describing Mr. Privman’s own work as important, interesting, or relevant. Both would be inaccurate (ironically the very stain Privman wants to splatter on Stauffer).

    There is a fitting use for the word “unseemly” in this discussion, and it clearly belongs next to the name of Jay Privman

  • Tim

    Isn’t it ironic that Mr. Stauffer doesn’t seem to think that the accuracy of the date of a suicide is particularly important, yet the accurate date of a birthday is paramount?

    Why didn’t he just make up a new birth date for Pincay so he could re-air it?

  • Belinda Cuggabe

    That is a blatant error by Stauffer, it’s akin to a WW2 documentary stating FDR gave his day of Infamy speech the day before Pearl Harbor was bombed.

    Gross errors like that lower the standard for the award.

    Is the award THAT important to you Vik?

    If you still have the award, I implore you to do the right thing and surrender it. Set an example for the future, only excellence and accuracy will be rewarded.

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