The Eclipse Awards bring out the best

Updated: February 17, 2001, 4:00 PM ET
By Dave Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

Class is mentioned often in thoroughbred racing. Class wins races. Class is apparent in past performances when you see the company a pro keeps. And at the recent Eclipse Awards in New Orleans, we were treated to a great display of class when Bobby Frankel accepted his award for outstanding trainer of 2000. First of all, his selection was the surprise of the evening. The Frank Stronach team already had marched to the stage to accept four awards: Macho Uno and Perfect Sting won divisional championships, while the man himself picked up hardware for outstanding owner and outstanding breeder. It seemed only a formality that Stronach's trainer, Joe Orseno, would be honored next. When Frankel was instead called to the stage, what he said seemed like an apology. Frankel was gracious in his praise of Orseno and Scott Lake, the other two finalists for the award. He pointed out that Orseno trained the two aforementioned champions, then added, "Scott Lake saddled more winners last year than I started horses." If the Eclipse were given for class alone, Frankel would have earned it for his modest acceptance. But make no mistake. He deserved the award. Of that trio, only Frankel topped $10 million in purse earnings for the year, and in August alone, he sent out Chester House to win the $2 million Arlington Million and Skimming to win the $1 million Pacific Classic. Bobbys $10,839,071 in earnings was achieved with just 371 starters, an average paycheck of $29,000 per start! And another who did well at the podium was ESPN SportsCenter anchor and master of ceremonies Kenny Mayne. His line of the night came after ex-New Orleans Saints football coach Bum Phillips presented Kalanisi's male turf horse Eclipse Award to Princess Zahra Aga Khan, daughter of the Aga Khan. As those two left the stage together, Kenny quipped that we had just seen "the Princess and the Bum." Kenny is as bright and quick and funny as any performer on television today, and the industry is lucky to have him in the fold. The award for champion older female went to Riboletta, and it was wonderful to see owners Aaron and Marie Jones back in the limelight. I first met them at the 1982 Eclipse Awards, when they were receiving the champion older horse award for Lemhi Gold. We were introduced by Sonny and Leah Rae Werblin, who have since passed away, and the Joneses recently named a $2.5 million prospect in their late friends' honor. The offspring of Broad Brush and champion Winning Colors will be known as Werblin. How fitting. I'm sure Sonny and Leah Rae will be watching and rooting for this one. And speaking of Riboletta, watch for the name Super Power -- a full brother to the champion mare. He was bred in Brazil, and last year as a 3-year-old he won the trio of turf races that serve as the Brazilian Triple Crown. But because he was foaled in the Southern Hemisphere, Super Power is now considered a 5-year-old in the U.S. Am I confusing you? What really matters is that this guy can run. Elliott Walden will train him for the Rio Aventura Stable. The Eclipse Award of Merit went to the remarkable Jim McKay. The great storyteller was at his best as he received his award. This kind, gentle professional is still reinventing himself, and we are all the richer for it. He began as a newspaper man, then was a star at the network level at CBS in New York. But in his subsequent decades at ABC, we all came to know and love him. Now he is going to NBC (on loan from ABC) for the next Olympics. There is no way our industry can repay Jim for the positive impact he has had on the world of thoroughbred racing, which he loves so much. Also at the Eclipse Awards was the announcement of outstanding apprentice jockey -- Tyler Baze. It has been a long time since we have seen such raw emotion from any award winner. Being honored by a black-tie audience in the grand Saenger Theater was simply too much for the 18-year-old youngster, who has also been around the track as a groom and exercise rider. With tears streaming down his face, he paused a few times on his way to the stage to hug friends and bury his face in a tuxedo or two. During his acceptance speech he grinned, turned to the others on stage and said, "Isn't this great?" It was. Makes you proud to be a part of this wonderful sport, and grateful for the opportunity to applaud these great athletes -- both human and equine.