Now, some people would say that make-up sex can be the best sex of all. And nobody is questioning the propriety of giving these designates a kiss. But Eclipse Awards become precious because horses and people earn them in competition, by a vote of experts - not because someone’s afraid to ruffle a few feathers when the results don’t come out the way wanted.
Members of Claiborne and Team Zenyatta have stated openly that they believe their horse is deserving of Horse of The Year. Only one horse can win the award, unless there’s a tie in the voting. To be certain that each party goes home at least somewhat fulfilled, it apparently was decided that an ancillary Eclipse Award would serve to placate the party whose horse came up short in the vote What’s been wrought is an insult – an insult to those receiving the made-up award and to those who are winning the real ones.
Faulconer was the Keeneland publicist who invented the Eclipse Award program. A J.B. Faulconer Award would serve the thoroughbred sport in the same manner as the Jean Hershholt Humanitarian Award or the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award serves the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – not as an Oscar but as a prestigious award which is committee-determined and presented to a worthy recipient on Oscar night.
Claiborne is celebrating its 100th year and the Hancock family has been prominent in the game for almost that long. In partnership with Adele Dilschneider, the Paris, Kentucky breeding and racing operation campaigned the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame. Team Zenyatta, represented by owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith, enabled the country’s most charismatic horse to continue making memories when, in fact, she could have entered a life of baby-making last fall. These are reasons indeed to salute them.
In addition to Claiborne, Marylou Whitney will be receiving a Eclipse Award of Merit, and she, too, is deserving of being honored. Whitney will receive her Eclipse for considerably less transparent reasons. Being one of two winners instead of one, however, will make her award a bit diluted. The Eclipse Award of Merit, first awarded in 1976, has been shared in only two years; the Special Eclipse Award, awarded for the first time in 1971, only three times. But the last time it was shared between Roy and Gretchen Jackson and the New Bolton Center, which, in that particular instance, was one and the same anyway.
No Eclipse Award of Merit was presented in one of the last three years; there have been several years when no Special Eclipse Award was presented. Both awards are awards of convenience, found inconvenient in 21 different years. It may be that, when given, they provide satisfaction to the people awarding them more than the people receiving them.
Horse racing has a problem comprehending that “exceptional” is a concept that derives its definition by being rare and singularly estimable. Last year, the same people who couldn’t control their urge to designate three recipients for what should be, at the very most, one special Eclipse Award, toyed around with the ultimate fence-sitting idea of allowing voters to cast a vote that could have resulted in Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta as Co-Horses of The Year.
Perhaps that maneuver wasn’t what you’d call make-up sex, but ménage a trios. Nevertheless, to deeply-avowed monogamists, it seemed as boner-less as two of this year’s three extra Eclipse Awards.