Perhaps I haven't paid enough attention to the Eclipse Awards ("Horse of the Year") given at the start of each year for performances in the year before. There is always a lot of suspense around the age categories, and speculation on which Eclipse winner will be named Horse of the Year. But I don't remember so much media attention--ever--as there was for tonight's ceremony in Los Angeles.
This year, wounded Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was a candidate for Best Three-Year-Old Colt and, had he won his division, he might have become the first Horse of the Year to be crowned in the confines of an equine hospital's ICU stall.
That was not to be case; three-year-old colt honors fell on the handsome neck of Bernardini, trained by Kieran McLaughlin. Bernardini won the fateful Preakness Stakes in which Barbaro pulled up with a dangling hind leg.
As if choreographed for a Hollywood script, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's "Moment of the Year" was emergence of Barbaro from his seven hour surgery at New Bolton Center the following day.
Horse of the Year honors went to Invasor, the champion from Uruguay who headed north and won his USA races, including the Breeders Cup Classic, with his ears pricked.
But wait a minute, cue Barbaro again: A "Special Eclipse" was given to Barbaro's owners, the Jacksons, and to Dean Richardson DVM, Barbaro's astute surgeon who stayed on to become his personal veterinarian and media spokesperson.
Add an Eclipse Award for best jockey to Barbaro's pilot, Edgar Prado (who can forget those photos of him patting Barbaro while double-wrapped inside surgical gowns?). Tonight's Eclipse Awards were as much about Barbaro and his fight for survival as they were about racing.
Now that's a change. Barbaro has brought tremendous attention and publicity to racing and we are about to embark on a new Triple Crown trail. And the producers of the awards ceremony played to the crowd.
How sad that it took a horse's pain and suffering to bring mainstream media attention to racing. Sound horses are relegated to a score box buried in the sports section; a champion with a broken leg dangling from a sling makes the front page.
Invasor's pricked Uruguayan ears and Bernardini's handsome neck might be forgotten quickly by the public once the champions leave the racetrack (Bernardini is already gone to the breeding shed), but no one will forget the post-op picture of Barbaro dangling over the recovery pool.
Bring on the next class of aspiring champions. It would be nice to report that New Bolton Center put away the sling and drained the recovery pool and Barbaro moved on to a rehabilitation barn. I'll look forward to writing that Hollywood ending.