The Eclipse Awards are considered the Academy Awards of the horse racing industry. The annual Eclipse Awards, presented by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), the Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters, recognize excellence in the thoroughbred industry. The Eclipse Awards honor the year’s best breeder, owner, trainer, jockeys, horses, and media.
Although most of the winners will not be announced until the awards are handed out January 16 in Beverly Hills, California, the media award recipients were announced earlier this month. Louisville’s Courier-Journal writer Jennie Rees was honored with the Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the News/Enterprise category, one of six categories for media. Her piece titled, “Breeders’ Cup 2011: Jockeys Rein in Their Emotions” examines the public altercation between jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano immediately following the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Marathon  at Churchill Downs and the typical way jockeys resolve issues like this. It also provides insights on the topic from several of the industry’s top current and retired jockeys.
“We’re always trying to find a story that we hadn’t written,” Rees said. “I got to thinking in the wake of the Breeders’ Cup Marathon in 2010, with the encounter between Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano, two real gentlemen, what would lead to that? It made me think about the unique dynamics of the jocks’ room. Unlike anything in professional sports, where these competitors are in the same locker room, essentially, and have to go back there multiple times a day.”
Rees noted that in other professional sports in which competitors might share the same locker room—for example, tennis or golf—the safety issues are nonexistent compared to those that professional jockeys face each time they take to the race track. Jockeys must make split-second decisions every second of a race. An aggressive move by a jockey or a minor mistake made by the horse or jockey, may bear catastrophic consequences for any horse or any jockey in the race.
“So how does this work?” Rees queried. “You might be so mad about somebody because they might have gotten you killed or somebody else killed or injured, and then you’re all back in this one large room.
Read Rees’ winning piece here .
Although the story was Rees’ idea, she was not originally going to write it. The idea was to present an insider’s look at the jocks’ room and have a male reporter cover it. The jocks’ room is generally off limits to media, so the dynamics of gaining access were an initial hurdle. Rees decided to seek out jockeys (away from the jocks’ room) and gather quotes that she would then feed to the eventual writer of the piece. After talking candidly with so many jockeys, it seemed clear that Rees had to be the person to write the piece.
As one might imagine, being honored with an Eclipse Award means a lot to Rees.
“What I’m really proud of is the newspaper for devoting the time and the space to stories like this and to horse racing coverage,” Rees said. “When Jim Gluckson [with NTRA] called me and told me that I had won, I told him that I felt like when you interview these trainers after a stakes race they’ve won and they always want to say, ‘I got to thank the owners,’ and you think, ‘come on, say something else,’ but I understand why they do it, because it’s true. The trainers without the horses wouldn’t be able to do that, and if I didn’t work for a newspaper that supports this and if I didn’t have a sports editor who supports it.”
Rees credits Courier-Journal sports editor Harry Bryan, photographer Bill Luster, and videographer Scott Utterback for their contributions to the piece.
Rees has covered horse racing for the Courier-Journal since 1983. This is the third Eclipse Award for Rees. She won her first Eclipse in 1988 for a profile of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, which appeared in the Sunday Magazine of the Courier-Journal. She earned her second Eclipse in 1993 for her story on horse injuries. Additionally, Rees collaborated with other members of courierjournal.com for the 2008 Eclipse Award in the Audio and Multi Media Internet category.
“There’s a lot of very, very gifted turf writers, very great writers and reporters that have not won the Eclipse Award,” said Rees. “So you put it in perspective and to win is sure an awful big honor.”
HRTV and DRF.com will air the Eclipse Awards presentation live on Monday, January 16, beginning at 8 p.m.
Photo: Courtesy Courier-Journal