The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters today announced the winners of the 2019 Media Eclipse Awards in six categories. They are as follows:
Feature/Commentary Writing – Joe Nevills, Paulick Report “Biting The Dust: A Long Goodbye to Mount Pleasant Meadows,” July 22, 2019
News/Enterprise Writing – Bryce Miller, San Diego Union-Tribune “Anniversary of Deadly San Luis Rey Fire Strains Still,” Dec. 8, 2018
Television – Live Racing Programming – TVG, “TVG Pacific Classic,” Aug. 17, 2019
Television – Features – FOX Sports 2, “When Rachel Raised the Rafters,” Aug. 30, 2019
Audio/Multi-Media Internet – Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) “2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships,” Nov. 2, 2019
Photography – Jim Leuenberger, DRF.com; “2019 Kentucky Derby,” May 4, 2019
Each of the Media Eclipse Award winners will be presented their trophies at 49th Annual Eclipse Awards on Thursday, January 23, 2020 at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Entries were accepted for 2019 Media Eclipse Awards consideration for works which appeared from Nov. 16, 2018 to Nov. 15, 2019.
Feature/Commentary Writing – Joe Nevills
This is the first Eclipse Award for Nevills, of Georgetown, Kentucky, who has been the bloodstock editor of the Paulick Report since 2018, and prior to that was a reporter for Daily Racing Form and the Thoroughbred Times. Nevills’ wife, Natalie Voss, won an Eclipse Award for News/Enterprise writing in 2016.
“It’s just one of those things you dream of doing, like hitting a Grand Slam to win Game 7 of the World Series,” Nevills said about winning an Eclipse Award. “This is something I’ve always wanted to accomplish and never expected, but this one was very personal for me. I had been working on this story for five years, since the track closed.”
In “Biting The Dust: A Long Goodbye to Mount Pleasant Meadows,” Nevills tells the story of the demise of a small mixed-breed track in central Michigan through the eyes of trainer Nate Funnell, jockey Lee Gates, track announcer and marketing director Scott Csernyik, and through his own personal recollections of a place where he learned and enjoyed horse racing beginning with his family at age four. He had revisited the closed grounds several times since it was shuttered, and he was able to finally complete his story this year.
“I wanted to write a John Mellencamp song about horse racing, without the music: Give a spotlight to blue-collar horse people on the small circuit that made me,” Nevills said. “I like to write things that I’d have liked to read when I was young, looking through magazines for whatever I could find about my home circuit. The entire Michigan racing community has had my back since I started writing about the sport. They’ve been instrumental in teaching me about the industry, even today.”
Opened in 1985, Mount Pleasant Meadows in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, experienced just a few good years of racing, damaged by an ever-growing list of internal and political obstacles, before closing in 2013. And yet, in describing the run-down conditions of the track he revisited several times, Nevills revealed the strength and joy of those who worked there.
“Even at its loudest, Mount Pleasant was a good place for people who liked to hear what was going on: the sound of jockeys smooching and barking to urge their mounts, then explaining themselves to the trainers afterward; the gate crew pleading with the starter to keep his thumb off the button; and the occasional trash talk between people on horseback.
“This was especially true around the paddock, where horsemen and revelers shot the breeze between races over a flimsy chain-link fence. The sternly-worded sign warning folks with racing licenses against chatter with the outside world, hung by the state’s racing commission, might as well have been written in Cantonese.”
Nevills is a native of Edmore, Michigan, attended Montabella High School, and graduated from Central Michigan University.
The winning feature/commentary article can be accessed here: https://www.paulickreport.com/news/ray-s-paddock/biting-the-dust-a-long-goodbye-to-mount-pleasant-meadows/
Judges in the Feature Commentary category were Tom LaMarra, Director of Communications for the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Managing Editor of THAracing.com; Myra Lewyn, turf writer, editor, and publicist with four decades devoted to the coverage of Thoroughbred racing and Dan Liebman, former editor of The Blood-Horse as well The State-Journal in Frankfort, Kentucky.
News/Enterprise Writing – Bryce Miller
This is the first Eclipse Award for Bryce Miller, who has been a columnist in the sports department for the San Diego Union-Tribune since 2015. Prior to that, Miller was a columnist and sports editor of the Des Moines Register. He earned an Honorable Mention in the Feature/Commentary category in last year’s Eclipse Awards.
“It’s an incredible honor to win an Eclipse Award,” said Miller. “To those who write consistently in the industry, it’s an indication that your work has reach and your work mattered, and it’s pretty humbling.”
“Anniversary of Deadly San Luis Rey Fire Strains Still,” was both an examination of the rebuilding and improvements to San Luis Rey Downs and an update on the individuals whose lives were permanently altered one year after the Lilac fire devastated the Thoroughbred training facility in Bonsal, California in December 2017.
Miller received an official tour of the grounds last December, reporting on changes to the facility, which included the removal of 350 palm trees and the installation of two 95-foot wide pavilions with high-tech roofing material which can self-extinguish flames or embers; installation of a two-mile sprinkler system and a new employee app for phones to receive alerts about nearby emergency response calls, among others changes.
“We (at the Union-Tribune) had covered the fires extensively in 2017 and on a regular, often weekly basis in 2018,” said Miller. “It was a logical wrap up and the finish line of a big project.”
“The area, jarringly out of place from all the rebuild and rebirth, resembles a scene from battled-scarred Sarajevo — an eerie graveyard of twisted metal and jagged concrete footings once anchoring barns that wilted under flames exceeding 3,200 Fahrenheit…The year became a test, at moments sullen, at moments affirming, of the resilience of an entire industry. People from all corners — paycheck-to-paycheck backstretch workers, millionaire owners and complete strangers — discovered how much heart and sweat it would take to dust off ashes and sculpt brighter days.”
The hardest and most rewarding parts for Miller was meeting Pierre Bellocq and his wife, trainer Martine Bellocq, who suffered severe burns over most of her body, and received multiple skin grafts over the past year; and with Cassandra Branick, an exercise rider and barn manager for trainer Ed Freeman, who repeatedly kept going back in to save horses. “She was a general in the middle of the battlefield,” said Miller.
The winning entry may be viewed here: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sports/columnists/bryce-miller/sd-sp-miller-sanluisreyanniversary-20181209-story.html
Honorable Mention in the News/Enterprise category went to Frank Angst for “Country House Getaway,” which appeared in the BloodHorse on May 11, 2019, and to Vinnie Perrone for “Starting Over,” which was published in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred on Oct. 1, 2019.
Judges in the New Enterprise category were: Reid Cherner, former writer and editor for USA Today; Robert Yates, who covered racing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Gary Yunt, former copy editor for the Denver Post and Notes Team Captain for the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup.
Television – Live Racing Programming – TVG
TVG has won its first Live Racing Programming Eclipse Award for its coverage of Pacific Classic Day on August 17, 2019 at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which culminated with a runaway victory by Hronis Racing’s Higher Power in its signature race, the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic. In addition to conducting interviews with key participants in the lead up to the Pacific Classic, TVG accented its coverage by introducing its wide array of broadcast talent as being “Born into the Sport,” highlighting how these individuals came into racing careers through the tutelage and influence of immediate families and relatives.
“On behalf of everyone at TVG, we’re very excited and appreciative of this recognition, which we know puts us in great company with the other media Eclipse Award winners,” said Kip Levin of FanDuel, TVG. “Kevin Grigsby and his team — both the on air talent and everyone behind the camera and behind the scenes — work hard every day to promote horse racing and to present the very best in the sport and the TVG Pacific Classic show was a prime example of how we strive to provide racing fans premier coverage and to support our track and horsemen partners.
“I can’t think of a better way to cap our 20th anniversary celebration.”
Kevin Grigsby was Executive Producer of the TVG Pacific Classic telecast. The Pacific Classic team of talent featured Todd Schrupp and Matt Carothers, who have been with TVG since its inception 20 years ago. Schrupp and Carothers were joined by Simon Bray, Britney Eurton, Christina Blacker, Mike Joyce, Scott Hazelton and Gabby Gaudet.
TVG utilized 29 cameras as a part of more than eight hours of live coverage of racing on Pacific Classic day.
The winning entry can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/381668613
Honorable Mention in the Television – Live Racing Programming category went to Fox Sports for its broadcast of the “Runhappy Travers on FOX” which aired on the FOX Broadcast Channel on Aug. 24, 2019; Michael Mulvihill, the Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy and Analytics for FOX Sports.
Judges in the Live Television Programming category were: Dave Johnson, track announcer, television analyst and race caller for ABC Sports, and now co-host of DOWN THE STRETCH on SiriusXM; Toni Slotkin, Sports Emmy Producer, MLB Network and president TES Productions, and Chris Svendsen, producer-director for CBS Sports.
Television Feature – FOX Sports
“When Rachel Raised the Rafters” was televised on FS2 during the Fox Sports telecast of the Aug. 30, 2019 Woodward Stakes from Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The feature, which was produced by Ernie Munick and narrated by Maggie Wolfendale, celebrated the 10th anniversary of Stonestreet Stables and Harold McCormick’s brilliant Rachel Alexandra capping her historic 2009 Horse of the Year season by besting older males to become the first filly to capture the Woodward.
The segment was highlighted by interviews with the Rachel Alexandra’s connections: co-owner Barbara Banke, trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Calvin Borel. Longtime NYRA track announcer and Eclipse Award of Merit winner Tom Durkin put a capstone on the afternoon when he felt the enormous roar of the crowd and said “Rachel Alexandra raises the rafters here at the Spa!”
“Rachel Alexandra’s brilliance and courage in the 2009 Woodward made for one of the great days in the history of Saratoga Race Course,” said Michael Mulvihill, the Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy and Analytics for FOX Sports. “Rachel authored her own breathtaking story with a performance that electrified the crowd and captured the imagination of the sport.
“It was a privilege to be able to recount that drama in a way that resonated with fans across the country on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Rachel raising the rafters at the Spa. All of us at FOX Sports offer our thanks and congratulations to producer Ernie Munick, to the entire Saratoga Live crew, and most of all to the unforgettable Rachel Alexandra the great.”
The winning feature can be viewed here: https://vimeo.com/381668484
Honorable Mention in the Television Feature category went to NBC Sports for “The 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships – Bob Baffert and McKinzie,” which aired on Nov. 2, 2019; Rob Hyland, Coordinating Producer.
Judges in the Television Features category were Liz Bronstein, television Show Runner and Executive Producer, and creator the Animal Planet 2008-09 series “Jockeys”; John Hennegan, two-time Eclipse Award-winning writer/producer/director and partner in Hennegan Brothers Productions, which he runs with his brother Brad; and Dick Jerardi, former writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
Audio/Multi-Media Internet – Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships
This is the second Eclipse Award for HRRN, based in Lexington, Kentucky, which previously won the Audio/Multimedia and Internet Eclipse Award in 2010 for its coverage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Providing its North American audience with nearly 10 hours of live radio coverage of the 36th Breeders’ Cup from Santa Anita Park, Nov. 1-2, on Sirius 219/XM, HRRN deployed its talent and production team to cover all aspects of the event with pre-race analysis from key participants and special background features with jockeys trainer and owners participating in each Breeders’ Cup race.
“It really is surreal,” said HRRN president and host Mike Penna in describing what it means to win the Eclipse Award for the second time. “When I first started the network nearly 15 years ago, I just wanted to create something that would benefit our sport. I never imagined we would be putting together live programs on such a large scale, so to have our work recognized with an award of this stature is extremely humbling.
“Our broadcasts are storyline driven and, because we are on radio, we have to find ways to paint the pictures we see through our words and try to find the stories that are most interesting and intriguing to our audience in the buildup to each race, then follow up with news and interviews afterward,” Penna continued. “The goal is always to make listeners feel as if they are sitting there with us. It was a lot of work but we had a great team to accomplish our goals. We thank the people at Santa Anita and the Breeders’ Cup, along with our sponsors and all the horsemen who were so cooperative with us.”
The broadcast was anchored by Mike Penna along with analysts Kurt Becker, Bobby Neuman and Dan Mason. Ashley Mailloux provided paddock commentary and interviews. Lee Dellapina and Shawn Seay produced the broadcast, with production assistance contributed by Justin Taylor, Keith O’Brien, Jude Feld, Michelle Penna, Megan Devine and Howard Deneroff. Race calls courtesy of Santa Anita Park track announcer Frank Mirahmadi.
The winning entry may be accessed here: http://horseracingradio.net/episode/2019-hrrn-breeders-cup-turf-and-classic
Honorable mention in the Audio/Multimedia and Internet category went to Kelsey Riley and Thoroughbred Daily News for “At 27 Serena’s Song Still Hits All the Right Notes,” which appeared in TDN Look on July 27, 2019.
Judges in the Audio/Multi-Media Internet category were Glenn Crouter, former lead television anchor for Woodbine Live horse racing network, and correspondent/announcer for Newstalk 1010 in Toronto; Bob Curran, longtime Vice President of Corporate Communications for The Jockey Club and graduate of the St. Bonaventure University journalism program; and Julie Sarno, freelance writer, former editorial staff member of the Blood-Horse, staff member and department head The Meadowlands and Del Mar.
Photography – Jim Leuenberger
Leuenberger, 73, from Shawano, Wisconsin, has won his first Eclipse Award, for his photograph of the critical moment of the 145th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, when race leader Maximum Security veered into the path of War of Will over a sloppy track as a pack of eight horses were passing thought the final turn. The image captures War of Will appearing nearly sideways in behind Maximum Security as mud is flying in the background in the crowded field.
Maximum Security crossed the wire first in the Derby but, after two jockeys’ objections and a lengthy review by the stewards, was disqualified from first and placed 17th, thus creating the first disqualification of a winner due to a claim of foul in the first leg of the American Triple Crown.
Following the race, Leuenberger went back to the track’s media center where his photographs were downloaded by Daily Racing Form’s Emily Shields.
“I’m going off to get a bite to eat, soaking wet, and Emily is hollering at me to come over back to her computer, and I’m thinking ‘what did I do wrong?’, said Leuenberger. “I hurried back and I saw a bunch of other photographers gathering around her screen and she was excited to show me that my photo captured the incident.”
Barbara Livingston, Daily Racing Form Chief Photographer, and four-time Eclipse Award Photography winner, later encouraged Leuenberger to enter his photograph in the Media Eclipse Award competition.
“Barbara told me that this incident in the Derby had the most impact of any race of the year, and that my photo showed what happened in a race where a winning horse had never been disqualified.”
Leuenberger, who took the winning photograph with a Canon 5D Mark III camera with a 100-400 telephoto lens, exclaimed “Amazement,” as the word to describe winning the Eclipse Award, adding, “It’s a great Christmas present.”
Leuenberger, who grew in northeast Iowa and graduated from Iowa State Bachelor of Science in Dairy Science with a minor in Ag Journalism and Master of Science in Ag Journalism with a minor in Animal Science. He worked in public relations for more than 30 years in the agricultural livestock industry.
Leuenberger also took photographs of Green Bay Packers NFL games and other local Wisconsin sports teams for Wolf River Media. He began attending the Kentucky Derby since 1995, and first covered his first Derby for Daily Racing Form in 2018.
The winning photograph, which appeared on the Daily Racing Form website drf.com on May 4, 2019, may be viewed here:
Judges in the category were Mark Abraham of United Press International and current deputy director of the US Senate Press Photographer’s Gallery; Rob Carr, staff sports photographer with Getty Images, and Mike Kane, veteran Thoroughbred journalist and photographer and former communications officer at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Eclipse Awards tickets are available for $425 each, or $4,000 for a table of 10. Additional details can be found on the NTRA website at NTRA.com/eclipse-awards/ or by contacting Casey Hamilton at email@example.com.
The “black-tie optional” Eclipse Awards is part of a full week of events that will culminate with the fourth running of the $3 million Pegasus World Cup, on Jan. 25. Separate tickets to the Pegasus World Cup are available on the Gulfstream Park website at pegasusworldcup.com.
Tickets to the Eclipse Awards also include an invitation to a spectacular Friday night, Jan. 24, party in the Gulfstream Park walking ring on the eve of the Pegasus.
Eclipse Awards voting is conducted by the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB), the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and Daily Racing Form. The Eclipse Awards ceremony is produced by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and presented by the Breeders’ Cup, Daily Racing Form and The Stronach Group.
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.