The Eclipse Awards are the horse racing equivalent of the Oscars, but obviously much more fun because the Eclipse Awards involve Thoroughbreds, gambling and Gulfstream Park. With that in mind, I planned a full day of the South Florida experience revolving around our sport, and I’d like to invite you along the ride with me!
My day started out with a pre-dawn jaunt to Palm Meadows Training Center. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Palm Meadows is the training facility located about 45 minutes north of Gulfstream, and it is truly an equine paradise. Horses who live here spend most of their time at the training facility, leaving only to head to an afternoon at the races.
Once I pulled into the Palm Meadows gates, I met up with my team and headed over to the track to watch horses train. Horses emerged from the gloom to be silhouetted against the rising sun, and the calm and beauty of the morning was just what I needed after a long day of travel.
We then headed to the clocker’s stand located right next to the track. This area is where trainers watch their horses exercise and where clockers record the times of horses working out. It’s also a great place to catch a glimpse of some of racing’s luminaries. For example, I was lucky enough to see both Michael Matz and Edgar Prado there. You may know the duo as the trainer and jockey of the late great Barbaro, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby (G1).
We also spotted trainer Mark Casse. One of his charges, a horse named Uncaptured, is a finalist for tonight’s Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male.
We were lucky enough to catch up with him and talk to him about what the Eclipse Awards mean to him; you can check out what he has to say about his colt being honored below.
Mark is a true horseman; he told us that before each of his horses go out to work in the morning, he personally has them jog on the pavement and feels each of their legs to make sure that the horse is perfectly sound. It’s always great to see trainers who have such a passion and respect for the horses in their barns.
Mark then headed back to the track to watch some of his horses work out on the lush grass course, and we tagged along to enjoy the spectacle.
We then wandered around the barn area, taking in the sights and sounds of Palm Meadows. The place is truly spectacular, and horses are taken care of by some of the top trainers - and their crews - in the game here. The setting is idyllic, and after being in New York City for a few months, it was great to be able to relax and take in the atmosphere.
One of the things I love to see around racing barns are horses turned out in roundpens. These are enclosures where race horses can enjoy some time outside, but they’re small enough so that the Thoroughbreds can’t work up enough speed running around that they hurt themselves. The great thing about them is that the horses almost always roll as soon as they get in the pens. Is there anything dorkier looking than a horse rolling? If there is, I don’t know about it.
I also found this little guy chilling out and waiting for his owner to return. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure this may be the king of the dogs. What a cool dude.
Horses who had just finished their morning exercise were being treated to bath time in the sun.
Then. Then! I had an awesome, awesome, excellent encounter. I bopped on over to trainer Graham Motion’s barn, and who should I see in the stall one down from the office but the sensational Animal Kingdom! He is just so darn handsome.
I was more than a little excited to meet him, as you can see.
He looked happy and content, and was kind enough hang out with us even though feeding time wasn’t too far away. Animal Kingdom, I love you! (One of these days, someone’s going to call me out in the comments for going all fangirl over so many horses. I won’t deny it; I just love ’em!)
After that, it was off to the races! Gulfstream Park is a beautiful facility, and it’s all the more special because it’s a great mix of top trainers and horses, an amazing backdrop and there are always tons of young families with kids taking in the wonder of the Thoroughbreds in front of them.
We even caught a glance of legendary trainer Allen Jerkens. This man is one of the most celebrated figures in the sport, and he was the youngest trainer to ever be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame. The press has dubbed Jerkens “The Giant Killer” (a name he HATES, by the way) because his horses have defeated some of the most talented races in history. For example, one of Jerkens’ trainees, a horse named Onion, beat the mighty Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga; and just last summer, Jerkens won the Grade I Prioress Stakes with longshot Emma’s Encore.
After the races, it was time to celebrate the Eclipse Awards! The reception for the finalists and their friends and families was held in the Gulfstream Park paddock area, and the track really went all-out. The place looked absolutely amazing, with special lighting, a laser light show and a mouth-watering array of treats for guests.
Gulfstream also served up one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen: there were Cirque du Soleil-style aerialists there who were handing out champagne to attendees – occasionally upside-down! It was amazing. I do not believe I will be attempting this any time soon.
The ABRV Brand Ambassadors were in attendance, and got to meet a few of the celebrities on-hand. Here they are with Eclipse Awards host and ESPN on-air analyst Jeannine Edwards:
They also got to meet the Miami Heat’s Rashard Lewis, who is a racing fan and a horse owner.
Image courtesy of Chip McGaughey
And here they are with jockey John Velazquez. They had a great night hobnobbing with racing’s stars!
Image courtesy of Chip McGaughey
There were plenty of other folks there having a blast at the party. These little girls discovered the mini-cupcake table.
And of course, there was plenty of Miami style in attendance. Check out these fashionable folks taking in the scene
That’s it for today – I’ll be back later to chronicle the Eclipse Awards and more! Thanks for stopping by, and hope all of your tickets are winning ones!