Photos courtesy HorsePhotos.com.
As winter relents to spring, North American horse racing again begins its inevitable cycle. Competitors start the year anew. With the progression of days, victors accumulate achievements and the murmuring of pundits builds into the debate over prospective recipients of coveted Eclipse Award honors. Every January the ceremony offers both predictable and surprising winners. However, acceptance speeches are an annual highlight of mine. The words of grateful recipients entertain and endear, bringing the audience to laughter and tears.
There are two speeches in particular I look forward to hearing at this year’s Eclipse Award ceremony: Dale Romans – potential recipient for outstanding trainer – and Nick Nicholson receiving the Eclipse Award of Merit.
What better way to kick off the year than to look back at a few classic Eclipse Award moments…
MIKE REPOLE AT THE 2010 ECLIPSE AWARDS
Owner Mike Repole’s acceptance speech for Uncle Mo’s 2010 champion 2-year-old male Eclipse Award:
Before thanking those involved with getting Uncle Mo through his 2-year-old career with unbeaten status, Mike Repole stated: “For people who know me, they know that I’m not speechless too many times in life – or overwhelmed. The good news is I’m not speechless. But I am overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed by just being in this room tonight with racing legends and racing leaders in this industry. I’m overwhelmed by holding this award that the great Secretariat won, that the great Seattle Slew won, that the great Affirmed won. And now my horse – I like the way that sounds – my horse, Uncle Mo, is now in that incredible company.
"It seems like it went so fast but it’s really been 30 years in the making and the excitement level I feel right now is the same level I felt as a 13-year-old kid cashing in my first $2 ticket at Aqueduct Racetrack, cutting out of school, taking money out of my mother’s purse and my father’s pants pockets, but it’s just so special and I know that if I’m in racing 200 years, the chances of me ever getting anything like Uncle Mo – it’s probably not going to happen, so I’m appreciative, I’m enjoying the moment, and there’s no better feeling.”
JESS JACKSON AT THE 2008 ECLIPSE AWARDS
Owner Jess Jackson’s acceptance speech for Curlin’s second Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year in 2008:
“This is an honor beyond the dreams of somebody who dreamed that he would someday own a racehorse when I saw Seabiscuit run in 1938 and I’ve been involved in handicapping, we’ve raced before in the 50s and 60s, held out for other professional activities but this is such an honor to be ranked with the John Henry’s, the Kelso’s, the Forego’s, the Secretariat’s – the greats of the racing industry.
"I can’t tell you how pleased I am, and it’s not easy to really thank everybody involved. But once again, I want to thank everyone who voted for Curlin, and I want to honor the horses last year and this year against which he competed for this prestigious award. I’ve always believed he’s a true champion. We pursued that dream and he is now among what I consider the greats of the industry.”
JERRY AND ANNE MOSS AT THE 2010 ECLIPSE AWARDS
Co-owner Jerry Moss’s acceptance speech for Zenyatta’s 2010 Eclipse Award as Horse of the Year:
After reminiscing about the incredible careers of the two other finalists, Blame and Goldikova, and thanking those who were also involved in getting Zenyatta to the racetrack, Jerry Moss recited a piece by Priscilla Clark of Tranquility Farm, an excerpt from the Thoroughbred retirement facility’s calendar: “If you love Thoroughbred horses, you go through life hoping that you can just see one more in whose presence clouds fall away to reveal a mountaintop. It can take a generation or infinitely longer for such a horse to arrive – a horse that is capable of carrying the human heart. The last 100 years, we know them all by name, but Zenyatta brought to us a beauty that was a tonic for the soul. She allowed us to believe in the impossible and it was the light in her being as much as the thrill of her races that got us dancing. Zenyatta was transformative.”
MARYLOU WHITNEY AT THE 2010 ECLIPSE AWARDS
Marylou Whitney’s acceptance speech for the 2010 Eclipse Award of Merit captured the true essence of what horse racing has brought to her life. Her words forever remain engrained on my memory, serving as a personal inspiration.
“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this prestigious award. I have loved the sport of Thoroughbred racing ever since Sonny Whitney introduced me to it in 1958. I am grateful for the honor — in a small way — to carry on the traditions of the Whitney family who have been in this business since 1894. Horses and people involved in racing have always given me more than I could ever give them. Horse racing is where I feel the most alive and at home. You are my family.
"Being part of the horse-racing family is a pleasure and a privilege but also it means responsibility. Many first-time owners get very frustrated that they don’t achieve instant success. However, over the years, we have all learned success as an owner means our horses have finished a race unhurt. As owners, you have to be accountable to the horses — all horses — from the beginning of their lives to the end. We are advocates together. One must fight to ensure that there will never, ever be another horse slaughtered in America.
"Another obligation we must share is to our backstretch workers. They are the sport’s unsung heroes. These wonderful people work long hours in dangerous situations while often living in poor conditions. All of us should try more to improve their lives and advance their dignity.
"We also need to know that racing is not just about betting. The beauty, the pageantry and flair is what separates our sport from any out there. Every race meet must be an extraordinary event - the only place to be. As we look to the future we must also pass on the passion and the excitement of this wondrous sport to the next generation is our obligation. A candle loses nothing by lighting another.
"Thank you for honoring me tonight with this most prestigious award in our industry. There are so many others who deserve this before me, however, I want you to know that you have given me one of the greatest moments of my life, and I am forever grateful. Tomorrow I am going to wake up inspired to do more for the horses and for you, the people I love. May God bless you and this wonderful sport.”
The 2012 Eclipse Awards take place at 6 p.m. EST on Jan. 19, 2013 at Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino in Hallandale Beach, Florida. The ceremonies will be televised on HRTV.