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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