Photos courtesy of Penelope Miller.
Read Part One here.
Saturday was a huge day in Hallandale Beach, Florida when it came to the Sport of Kings – not only were the Eclipse Awards scheduled for that evening, but the Sunshine Millions, a card for Florida-breds was taking place at Gulfstream Park.
The afternoon kicked off with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem performed by Joselyn Rivera from NBC’s “The Voice”. Awesomely, Joselyn is the daughter of jockey Jose Rivera, and rumor has it that her little brother is a heck of a singer as well – that’s one talented family!
The crowds started rolling in to take in a great afternoon of racing, and people were dressed to the nines to enjoy the day at the track. This group was looking great and having a great time hanging out, enjoying a few cocktails and cashing some tickets.
I saw this girl outside of the Winner’s Circle and instantly fell in love with her maxi dress. It’s one of those looks that always looks so effortlessly chic, and I loved how she enhanced the look with classic Ray-Bans and a groovy cardigan.
I even ran into some of my friends that I've had the pleasure to get to know in press boxes of tracks around the country. Here are Matt Shifman, Ashley Tamulonis, Matt Scott and Brian Zipse from Horse Racing Nation. These folks are some of the nicest people in the game, and if you happen to see them at the races go up and say "hi". They're knowledgeable, friendly and nearly always have a hilarious story to share.
As I mentioned in my previous Eclipse Awards Diaries, one of the great things about Gulfstream are the fans who come and hang out at a beautiful track to take in top-level racing. I managed to snap a few photos of people just enjoying a great day of racing in the idyllic Hallandale Beach setting.
And, of course, what big event day at the races would be complete without an appearance from the Best Horse Racing Fans Ever? These guys seem to pop up at all of the coolest days at tracks around North America (and even across the pond, too!) and make friends with absolutely everyone they meet. So it was no surprise when I walked into the Gulfstream paddock and found them hobnobbing with none other than Frank Stronach, the man who owns the track and several others around the country. Mr. Stronach was clearly tickled to make their acquaintance, and ended up personally giving the group tickets to that evening’s Eclipse Awards. That’s one of the things that’s so great about this sport: no matter what your level of involvement is, true fans of the game always support other true fans. It’s awesome.
Speaking of awesome, the racing on Saturday afternoon was super great. There were a couple of standout moments for me, such as when Off the Jak won the Sunshine Millions Sprint for the Bisnath Parboo team. They had a special assist from the world’s most adorable Superman, and I had to snap a photo.
The Sunshine Millions Classic was the crown of the race day, and while it was a shame to see Mucho Macho Man run so poorly, it was great to see Ron The Greek looking so great. He caught my eye as he was being led over to the saddling area; what an athletic horse he is! He also seemed very composed, taking in the atmosphere like the old pro that he is.
Then it was race time! The starting gate opened for the Sunshine Millions Classic, and the horses left in a perfect line to vie for their share of the $500,000 purse.
As the horses rounded the far turn into the homestretch, it was clear that it wasn’t Mucho Macho Man’s day; however, Ron The Greek looked every part the winner, and I don’t think anyone could have caught him that afternoon. I mean, look at him: that’s a horse that’s having a great time.
He even looked proud of himself as he was returning to take his place in the Winner’s Circle!
After the racing action ended, it was party time! Celebrities and racing’s hoi polloi converged on Gulfstream Park to honor the top horses and professionals in this great sport. With a theme of “Miami Chic,” everyone was dressed to impress!
Here are TV presenters Donna Barton Brothers and Laffit Pincay III looking sharp.
This girl, who was part of Team Shanghai Bobby, looked lovely in a beautiful rose evening dress.
This is Handicapper of the Year Michael Beychok and his wife Rochelle; how much do we love that shade of blue?
Presenter Jeannine Edwards got into the spirit of the event, sporting a Hansen-blue “tail” in her hair as a nod to the drama surrounding “Tail-Gate” before the 2012 Bluegrass Stakes.
Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, fresh off the first win of his comeback, was looking extremely dapper.
HRTV’s Christina Oliveras Blacker looked lovely in this crimson dress. I especially loved the lace detailing on the bust – so pretty!
And remember how I told you that the Best Horse Racing Fans Ever managed to score tickets to the Eclipse Awards from the owner of Gulfstream Park? Well, here they are at the event. They clean up well, no?
The awards themselves were really fun, and it was great to see so many of the horses I fell in love with this year get honored for their achievements. Here’s Team Shanghai Bobby accepting the Eclipse Award for Champion Two-Year-Old Male:
Another great moment was when Dr. Laura Javsicas accepted the NTRA Moment of the Year Award on behalf of Team Paynter. The gutsy colt’s amazing journey fighting off colitis and laminitis was voted by fans as the outstanding racing moment of 2012, and the Paynter’s recovery wouldn’t have been possible without Dr. Javsicas’s tireless efforts.
Another great moment was when Keeneland’s Nick Nicholson was given the Eclipse Award of Merit. Nicholson has been an indefatigable advocate for racing, and it was a pleasure to see him get the honor he so richly deserved. I clearly wasn’t alone on this way of thinking, since his ascent to the stage was greeted by a standing ovation.
Remember the tiny Superman from earlier in the blog? Well, his family had one more victory to celebrate on Saturday when their horse Trinniberg won Sprinter of the Year. Seriously, this little munchkin is so cute; superman to James Bond in one day, and he’s probably just learned to tie his shoes! This kid will rule the world one day.
It was great to see the entire Parboo family up on stage to accept the award. This is a family that is passionate about the sport of racing and everyone’s involved in the game. They also represented their native Trinidad and Tobago by bringing a flag on stage with them, a great touch.
I was thrilled when trainer Dale Romans took home Trainer of the Year – he’s done so much with his horses, and he and his wife Tammy are involved with every aspect of their path from the stall to the starting gate.
Royal Delta was awarded the title of Champion Older Female – no surprise considering her banner 2012 season that included a second consecutive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. Her new owner, Benjamin Leon of Besilu Stables, was magnanimous in his victory, thanking everyone involved in Royal Delta’s care. Trainer Bill Mott was clearly thrilled for the horse, and thanked Leon for allowing Royal Delta to stay in his care after Leon purchased the mare before her 2012 campaign.
There were some hilarious moments throughout the ceremony, too – the one that stands out in my mind was when Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Baily teamed up with Miami Heat star Rashard Lewis to present the Eclipse Award for Champion Jockey. While Baily is a giant in our memories for his many outstanding rides throughout his career, he needed a bit of an assist to measure up to Lewis!
For those of you who read my blogs regularly, you already know what my favorite part of the night was. For those of you who are first-time visitors, I’ll keep this simple: I freaking LOVE Wise Dan. I am a total dork for him. I have stalked this horse all over America and have even crossed international borders to see him run. So you can imagine my utter and complete joy when Dan the Man swept every category he was nominated for: Champion Older Male, Champion Turf Male and Horse of the Year. I definitely wasn’t the only one who was thrilled with his win, but it was truly touching to see his owner-breeder Morton Fink and trainer Charlie Lopresti make their way up to the stage hand-in-hand to accept the Horse of the Year honors.
It was so wonderful to see Mr. Fink and his family take the stage. This is a man who bred, raised and owned Wise Dan, and his commitment and love for his horse shone through.
And of course Charlie Lopresti, who has trained Wise Dan throughout his career, looked like the happiest man in the room that night.
When the show was over, the party was just getting started. Gulfstream Park really went all-out to honor the people at the Eclipse Awards, and the Miami-chic theme was in full effect. Rashard Lewis was surrounded by the ladies that helped greet guests (which I’m sure he didn’t object to too much!)
And as the crowd mingled and celebrated, Canivale-style dancers moved to salsa rhythms as the South Florida evening extended into the wee hours.
Thanks for stopping by and reliving the Eclipse Awards with me – I am truly excited to see what 2013 brings to the racing world, and I hope to see you back here as I chronicle my journey to take in America’s best racing.