The Eclipse Awards will be handed out on Monday January 16 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. In addition to all the awards for the equine and human competitors, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters will also recognize excellence in media coverage of Thoroughbred racing.
The 2011 Eclipse Award for Feature/Commentary Writing goes to Claire Novak for "Pressure off Durkin at Belmont," which appeared on ESPN.com on June 10. The complete article is available here. This is the first Media Eclipse Award for Novak, a native of Lake Zurich, Ill., who now resides in Lexington, Ky., and is a horse racing correspondent for ESPN.com.
Prior to this year's Belmont Stakes, Novak wrote a profile of the renowned racecaller Tom Durkin, on his reflections weeks after his decision to step down early in 2011 as the NBC Sports' "Voice of the Triple Crown." In the piece, Durkin revealed his anxieties, the nerve-racking preparations to leave the network position, but also a man more at peace with his new circumstances. Novak also spoke to Louisiana Downs' racecaller Travis Stone, who idolized Durkin growing up, and the thoughts of Larry Collmus, who replaced Durkin as NBC's Triple Crown announcer.
"It's a great honor to win an Eclipse Award and something I wished for as a kid growing up," said Novak, who began writing about Thoroughbred racing after graduating high school. "Tom Durkin is one of the most recognized and respected fixtures of our industry. Everybody knows his name, but did people really know what he was going through calling these major network races? I wanted to convey this emotional part of his career and his reaction to the changes he was experiencing."
Novak, who founded Hopeful Farm Foundation for Children with special needs in Lexington, also gave special thanks to Larry Goff, web editor for the racing site on ESPN.com.
Honorable mentions in the Features/Commentary category went to Joe Drape for "A Day in the Life of Todd Pletcher," which was published in The New York Times on August 21, and to Bob Ehalt for his two part series on the "1971 Triple Crown," which appeared in Thoroughbred Times on April 30 and May 21.
The panel of judges for the Feature/Commentary Writing category was comprised of Bob Curran of The Jockey Club; Jane Goldstein, former publicity director of Santa Anita Park and Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun.
Jennie Rees is the winner of the 2011 Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the News/Enterprise category for "Breeders' Cup 2011: Jockeys Rein in Their Emotions," which appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal on October 30. This is the third writing Media Eclipse Award for Rees, who resides in Louisville and has been the Thoroughbred racing writer for the Courier-Journal since 1983. You can read the full article here.
In her article, Rees examined the circumstances and aftermath of the altercation between jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano which ensued in the winner's circle following the 2010 Breeders' Cup Marathon and explored the reasons for how these situations are normally resolved. In addition to the principals involved, Rees interviewed jockeys Robby Albarado, Jon Court, Ramon Dominguez, and former riders Gary Stevens and Richard Migliore. Some riders revealed that they were sometimes more concerned about receiving suspensions for careless riding than they were for the welfare of their fellow competitors in the jockeys' colony - until their rival actually hit the ground.
"We're always looking for stories that will be of interest to a general audience during the showcase weeks of racing coverage, such as the Breeders' Cup," Rees said. "Having covered Borel for years and also Castellano, the explosion of emotions from these two gentlemen after the Breeders' Cup was jolting. It got me thinking about the unique dynamics of the jocks' room. Unlike anything else in professional sports, not only do these highly motivated athletes have to go back in the locker room and be with their competitors, there's the safety factor where their welfare on the track in large measure rests in each other's hands.
"We felt it was a topic that had not been fully explored. I really want to thank my newspaper and sports editor Harry Bryan for committing the time and space to tell this story. But what made the story was all the jockeys who spoke so candidly about involvement in such sometimes unpleasant situations."
Rees won her first Eclipse Award in 1988 for a profile of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, which appeared in the Sunday Magazine of the Courier-Journal, and won her second Eclipse for Newspaper writing in 1993 on horse injuries. She also collaborated with other members of courierjournal.com for a 2008 Eclipse Award in Audio and Multi Media Internet category.
Honorable mentions in the News/Enterprise category went to Joe Drape for "Ex-Racehorses Starve as Charity Fails Mission to Care for Them," about the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which was published by the The New York Times on March 18; and to Ryan Goldberg for "Lasix: Demystifying the Drug, Methods of Training Without it," which appeared in Daily Racing Form on November 17.
The panel of judges for the News/Enterprise Writing category was comprised of Michael Brunker of MSNBC.com; Reid Cherner of USA Today and Bob Kieckhefer of United Press International.