The conversation had been about this year's Eclipse dinner, which was held in Miami Beach. By most accounts, it was fairly well-attended (the drama surrounding Horse of the Year finalists Zenyatta and Blame accounting for 99% of the interest), but not there was Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer and one of the game's most recognizable figures.
The Eclipse Awards this month collided with Baffert's Mexican celebration of his 58th birthday. Baffert told the Paulick Report that he never goes to the Eclipses when they're held in Florida, that he hadn't had a vacation in six years and he was concerned about burnout. His fine 3-year-old, Lookin At Lucky, was given an Eclipse Award at the dinner. Baffert himself was a finalist for best trainer, in an Eclipse category won by Todd Pletcher.
"Baffert is a dufus," wrote a blogger on the Paulick Report. "He portrays himself as an industry leader. Industry leaders should be at (racing's) most important awards ceremony."
Also missing in Florida was the Stronach family, whose Adena Springs farm won an Eclipse for the fifth time in the last six years. That Frank Stronach and his wife and son weren't there is really more egregious than Baffert's absence. Stronach's Gulfstream Park was just down the street from the Eclipse dinner, but then again Stronach seems to go out of his way these days to miss important racing events. He didn't attend opening days at either Gulfstream or Santa Anita, another of his many properties, and hasn't seen a race at Santa Anita all season. Traditionally, the meet openers at these tracks are the gala kickoffs to the racing year in Florida and California
Baffert going to the Eclipse dinner isn't going to sell one extra ticket, save the one he buys for himself. But his presence would have been welcome window dressing for an evening that was like watching an empty flagpole until Zenyatta's name was called out at the end. As for Stronach, his comments from the stage on behalf of Adena Springs have usually been trite and forgettable (and his attempts at humor just as regrettable), but what does it say about an industry that holds its equivalent of the Oscars and can't get its most prominent track owner to show up?
Baffert's elliptical remarks and Stronach's hackneyed observations are usually cause for pause and little else. But this year the Eclipses didn't even get that. It's a good thing there was an envelope with Zenyatta's name in it, or the snoring would have been heard all the way to Tallahassee.