LEXINGTON, Ky. (Tuesday, January 5, 2016) – The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters (NTWAB) today announced that Jennie Rees has won the 2015 Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the Feature/Commentary category for “Dyslexia Doesn’t Slow Down Keen Ice Trainer Romans,” a discovery of how Dale Romans overcame a severe reading disability as a child on his way to becoming one of America’s top Thoroughbred trainers. The article was first published on the Louisville Courier-Journal website on October 28, 2015.
This is a record fifth Eclipse Award for Rees, who retired in November 2015 after 34 years with the Courier-Journal. Rees spent the preponderance of those years as the publication’s horse racing writer, punctuated by her meticulous coverage of the races leading to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown each year. Rees, who lives in Louisville, won Media Eclipse Awards for magazine writing in 1988, for newspaper and news-enterprise writing in 1993 and 2011, respectively, and was the main writer on the Courier-Journal’s Eclipse Award-winning entry in the Multi-Media category in 2008.
Rees will be presented her trophy at the 45th Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony on Saturday, January 16, at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Eclipse Awards are presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders’ Cup and The Stronach Group and produced by the NTRA.
“What a tremendous way to go out,” said Rees, who was raised in Lexington, Ky. “This whole year has been tremendous. To be voted in the Joe Hirsch wing of the Hall of Fame, covering a Triple Crown winner and a Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. I am proud that Dale’s story was written during a very busy week at the Breeders’ Cup. This was the kind of story that you want to spend time writing at other times of the year, and you want to take a week to write it. I think it’s a tribute to the power of the subject and Dale’s willingness to open up about a very difficult subject.”
Rees originally intended to write a column on Romans’ matriculation from a claiming trainer to running one of the nation’s preeminent operations. Rees was aware of Romans’ childhood dyslexia but had not pursued the matter in the past. The trainer broached the subject while being interviewed by Rees for a video to accompany the story. But the pivotal point came after Romans called Rees on another matter and, following up on the earlier conversation, the writer asked “if he thought he was stupid in school… And Dale said ‘Yeah.’” That led to Romans’ most powerful reflection on the difficult period of his childhood.
Along the way, Rees discovers that Romans wrote a composition completely backwards in the second grade, and that Tammy Fox, Romans’ lifetime partner for 25 years, did not know of Dale’s dyslexia until both of their children were born.
Some Breeders’ Cup participants have traveled thousands of miles to get to Keeneland. Romans only had to trek the 75 miles from Louisville, but it reflects a long and arduous journey that started in an era when people were just beginning to understand that not everyone learns in the same way.
“I felt like I was in a dark room,” Romans said. “I was very shy and (had) zero self-confidence. I never wanted to be called on in class. We’d have a test and I’d think, ‘How do these people focus? I was here the same amount of time, and I can’t do it.’ It was frustrating. I’d zone out and would daydream all day.”
Rees interviewed Romans’ mother, Lynn, for whom Dale gives enormous credit for “providing him the groundwork to thrive,” and who, in fact, enrolled the young boy in special classes at the University of Louisville. Rees also spoke to prominent Louisville businessman Frank Jones Sr., who has a string of horses with Romans.
Looking back… (Jones), believes finding a way to work through dyslexia has made Romans the trainer he is today. “He has the ability to absorb information, understand the successes other people have, putting it in his own mix of all the dynamics of racing,” Jones said. “That, and having a really good memory to recall what worked and what didn’t work. His inability to read and write, if you will, his mind has compensated by having the ability to absorb and retain the things he experiences and/or he gleans from other people’s experiences.”
The winning entry can be viewed at this link: http://cjky.it/1Z5p6OY
Honorable mention in the Feature/Commentary category went to Vinnie Perrone for “Hall of Fame Ride: Maryland Trainer Leatherbury takes place among Thoroughbred Racing Legend,” a profile of King T. Leatherbury, which appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred in August 2015; Joe Drape for “Ahmed Zayat’s Journey: Bankruptcy and Big Bets,” which appeared in The New York Times on June 5, 2015; and to Melissa Hoppert, also of The New York Times, whose article “A Storied Trainer and a Witness to History,” about Hall of Famer John Nerud, appeared in print on June 7, 2015. Judges in this category were Ed Gray, former Boston Herald racing writer; Lynne Snierson, former sports writer for the Boston Globe and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Hank Wesch, former racing writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune; and Richard Rosenblatt, racing and sports writer for The Associated Press.
Tickets to the Eclipse Awards are available for $400 each. Dinner tickets and reservations for the official event hotel – the Diplomat Resort & Spa, Curio Collection by Hilton – can be accessed by contacting Casey Hamilton of the NTRA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Eclipse Awards are named after the great 18th-century racehorse and foundation sire Eclipse, who began racing at age five and was undefeated in 18 starts, including eight walkovers. Eclipse sired the winners of 344 races, including three Epsom Derbies. The Eclipse Awards are bestowed upon horses and individuals whose outstanding achievements in North America have earned them the title of Champion in their respective categories. Those awards are voted by NTRA, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Eclipse Awards also are given to recognize members of the media for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing.