Voss, Evers Among 2020 Media Eclipse Award Winners

Events / Travel
Natalie Voss, center, became the first individual to win two writing Eclipse Award categories in the same year since the late Bill Nack earned two awards in 1991. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters today announced the winners of the 2020 Media Eclipse Awards in six categories. This year’s awards are highlighted by Natalie Voss, Editor-in-Chief of the Paulick Report, becoming the first individual to win two writing award categories in the same year since the late Bill Nack earned two awards in 1991.

The 2020 Media Eclipse Award winners are as follows:

Feature/Commentary Writing – Natalie Voss, Paulick Report “’An Angel On His Shoulder’: This Thoroughbred’s Fate Was Written In Ink,” May 13, 2020.

News/Enterprise Writing – Natalie Voss, Paulick Report – Multi-part Series: “A Decade In, How Are We Doing With Thoroughbred Aftercare?” Dec. 2, 2019; “Emptying The Ocean With A Teaspoon: The Challenges Of Aftercare,” Dec. 3, 2019; and “Aftercare Should Not Be An Afterthought: Solutions For The Future,” Dec. 4, 2019.

Television – Live Racing Programming – NBC Sports, “The Breeders’ Cup World Championships,” Nov. 7, 2020; Billy Matthews and Lindsay Schanzer, producers.

Television – Features – NBC Sports “Riders Up: The World’s First Sports Bubble,” Oct. 2, 2020 on NBCSN; Produced by the Hennegan Brothers.

Audio/Multi-Media Internet – Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN) “To Hell and Back: Belmont Marks A Deserved Triumph for New York City,” Joe Bianca, writer and narrator, Patty Wolfe, producer.

Photography – Alex Evers, Paulick Report “A Derby Without Fans,” Sept. 21, 2020.

Entries were accepted for 2020 Media Eclipse Awards consideration for works which appeared from Nov. 17, 2019 to Nov. 20, 2020.

Feature/Commentary Writing – Natalie Voss

Voss, from Georgetown, Ky., has now won three Eclipse Awards. In addition to the two honors this year, Voss won her first Media Eclipse Award in 2016 for News/Enterprise writing for her article on the lurking dangers of concussions for jockeys, which was also published in the Paulick Report.

“I never could have imagined this happening in my wildest dreams,” said Voss upon learning of her two Eclipse Awards in 2020. “It’s a tremendous honor to just win one award, but to win two in one year is unfathomable.

“I’m so pleased to see aftercare stories win in both categories this year. I really believe there are just as many compelling stories in that world as there are on the racetrack, and that they are just as much a part of the Thoroughbred industry.” 

In “Angel on His Shoulder,” Voss describes the journey and fate of a claiming horse named Inked, and how he touched the lives of his original owner Kirsten Fada, his breeder, Susan Young, and horse transporter Hannah Meier over a three-year period. Each of these women, with no connection to each other at first, helped assure that Inked would have a safe home after the track. Fada eventually adopted him for a second career after an improbable reunion at the Second Stride OTTB program at Moserwood Farm in Kentucky.

Voss capsulizes the anxieties of those following horses who have moved on from their care:       

Unless you have an inroad with the horse's connections, you don't know whether he suffered an injury or is enjoying a well-deserved vacation in a grassy field; whether he has moved on to a second career, or if he's at the end of a long trailer ride in a forgotten pen somewhere. It feels wrong to assume the worst, but irresponsible not to consider it. Where the heart is concerned, the brain can run wild with worst-case scenarios you may be powerless to prevent.

For two years, Fada and Young, a thousand miles apart, were each intently tracking Inked’s career. In October 2019, Young found Inked entered in a race at Grants Pass, Oregon and promptly drove four hours from her home to meet the trainer and let him know that she wanted to buy him. Young wanted to send him to his birthplace in Kentucky for a rest before moving him on to an accredited aftercare organization. A short time later, Meier, a part owner of Circle J Transportation, was contracted to pick up a horse at the base of trainer Gilbert Ecoffey in South Dakota. Upon her arrival, she noticed a stocky chestnut in the field that looked awfully familiar. Meier immediately recognized Inked, who had been one of the horses she had worked with under the care of Ecoffey at Grants Pass.

Meier drove Inked to Phoenix Hill Farm in Paris, Ky. Meier was hoping that Phoenix Hill owner Kim Dionne would one day call her to take Inked as her own, but she could not work out the logistics due to Covid-19 restrictions. Meier learned a few weeks later that Inked had been picked up and sent to Moserwood, where Fada would re-enter the picture and be reunited with Inked. Young was “floored” to get an email that her gelding had been rehomed in 24 hours. Fada posted a note about her reunion on Facebook and was subsequently connected to Meier. “Soon the three women were sharing memories and photos of their favorite Thoroughbred.”

“When you love a horse that’s no longer yours, there is an incredible anxiety if you don’t have a good way to find out where it is,” said Voss. “When you love racing, there will be one or two horses that will become special to you whether they are in your barn or not. Horses get lost in the ether and you may never see them again. I was struck by the improbability of it all. This is not an accomplished racehorse; he was not easily trackable like a well-known stakes horse might have been, and the stars really had to align so that Inked came back to Kirsten.”

The winning entry can be viewed: here

Honorable mention in the Feature/Commentary category went to 2008 Eclipse Award winner Vinnie Perrone for “The Autumn of King Leatherbury,” which was published in racingbiz.com on Nov. 17, 2020.

Judges in the Feature/Commentary category were Dan Liebman, former editor of The BloodHorse and The State-Journal in Frankfort, Ky.; Bill Kolberg, former assistant director of publicity at Santa Anita and Del Mar and published author on Thoroughbred racing; and Lynne Snierson, national award-winning turf writer for daily publications in Boston, Miami and St. Louis, and veteran racetrack publicist.

News/Enterprise – Natalie Voss

In her three-part series, Voss explores the achievements and struggles of the Thoroughbred aftercare movement that has reached prominence in the past decade. What began as one article on the phenomenon expanded into a series through the encouragement of publisher Ray Paulick and former Editor-in-Chief, Scott Jagow.

“I had some sense before I began the research process that the volume of horses needing aftercare was greater than the current infrastructure could handle,” said Voss, who earned a degree in Equine Science and Management from the University of Kentucky and also worked at the Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park before launching a career in journalism. “But the disparity between the number of horses in need of a second career and the capacity of the various accredited organizations was greater than I’d imagined, and really shows that more needs to be done.”

In part one of the series, “A Decade In, How Are We Doing With Thoroughbred Aftercare?,” Voss traces the evolution of aftercare from increased awareness of the problem through the explosion of social media, to initial “check off” fundraising efforts establish by The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Charities of America, to the great leap forward to the creation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which established high standards for accreditation and has overseen the distribution of $17.2 million to accredited organizations. The creation of second career incentive programs like Thoroughbred Makeover and The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program were also key.

Part two of the series, “Emptying The Ocean With A Teaspoon: The Challenges Of Aftercare,” raises questions about the cost of care for the high number of horses retired each year and the fate of horses that are never raced, and how retirement organizations can handle that load. It also raised questions about the slaughter pipeline and how the economics of that industry impact OTTBs.

Part three of the series “Aftercare Should Not Be An Afterthought: Solutions For The Future,” focused on the reliance on funding, continuing encouragement of horsemen to avoid “one final start” before retirement, and understanding that horses that retire healthy stand a far better chance of a second home that does who are not; and improved communication between racetracks and aftercare organizations on limiting the slaughter pipeline.

The winning submission can be viewed here: Part 1Part 2Part 3

Honorable Mention in the News/Enterprise category went to Richard Gross for “Authentic Proves He’s Just That,” a race recap of Kentucky Derby which appeared on the Horse Network website on Sept. 6, 2020.

Judges in the New Enterprise category were: Bob Kieckhefer, racing writer for United Press International; Rob Longley, sports columnist, who first covered the Triple Crown in both Canada and the U.S. in 1996 and is currently baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun; and David Papadopoulos, a senior editor at Bloomberg News.

Television - Live Racing Programming - NBC Sports

Incorporating a vast array of technological enhancements over a three-hour broadcast from bucolic Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., NBC Sports has won the Live Racing Television Programming Eclipse Award for its Breeders’ Cup World Championships coverage on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 on NBC.

Held under restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, NBC Sports produced its telecast of the two-day, 37th World Championships following all of NBCUniversal’s health and safety guidelines and protocols. 

This was the first horse racing event of 2020 that NBC Sports had its full announce team, as well as much of its production team, on-site. The Saturday Breeders’ Cup broadcast, which included five live races, and culminated with Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capturing the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), delivered viewers unique perspectives throughout the day. Among the many production and technical elements were access to more than 80 cameras — nearly twice as many cameras deployed from the 2019 Breeders’ Cup — including a dedicated camera on each individual Breeders’ Cup horse, starting in the paddock and carrying through to the gate break. For the first time, NBC used multiple live jockey cams during the Breeders’ Cup races; and increased the number of jockey and trainer microphones.

As an added element between the races, NBC joined fan parties of viewers enjoying the broadcast from around the world. 

NBC Sports’ coverage of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships was produced by Billy Matthews and Lindsay Schanzer, and directed by Kaare Numme, in conjunction with Jim Carr and Carr-Hughes Productions. The coordinating producer of NBC’s horse racing coverage is Rob Hyland.

“It was gratifying to have most of our team back at the track for the first time in 2020 to culminate an unprecedented year in sports, and to be recognized for one of the most innovative horse racing productions we’ve ever done, in collaboration with Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland,” said Schanzer. “Under the most challenging conditions, teamwork made this presentation a great success.” 

The NBC Sports talent on the broadcast consisted of Ahmed Fareed, Jerry Bailey, Randy Moss, Matt Bernier, Donna Brothers, Britney Eurton, Nick Luck, Eddie Olczyk, Laffit Pincay III, Kenny Rice and racecaller Larry Collmus.

NBC Sports also earned an honorable mention in the Live Racing Programming category for its broadcast of the 146th Kentucky Derby, which aired on Sept. 5, 2020. Hyland was coordinating producer.

Judges in the Live Television Programming category were: Charlsie Cantey, exercise rider, trainer and former racing commentator for CBS, ABC, NBC and ESPN; Dick Jerardi, former writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News; and Dave Johnson, track announcer, television analyst and race caller for ABC Sports, and now co-host of Down The Stretch on SiriusXM.

Television Feature – NBC Sports

“Riders Up: The World’s First Sports Bubble,” which aired on NBCSN on Oct. 2, 2020, and directed and produced by the Hennegan Brothers of John and Brad Hennegan, documents the successful collaboration of the management of Santa Anita Park and the track’s world renowned jockey colony to create a safe and healthy environment for a six-week race meeting in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Following approval from the Los Angeles County Health Department and through rigorous testing procedures of isolating the jockeys and essential workers into a “sports bubble,” Santa Anita Park resumed racing on May 15, 2020 after it was suspended on March 27.

Over three weekends in the spring of 2020, the Hennegan Brothers interviewed members of the Santa Anita executive team on its strategy and tactics during the race meeting, and filmed the daily lives of the jockeys riding during the day at of the world’s most picturesque racetracks. “Riders Up” displayed jockeys living in Hollywood cast trailers in the track’s parking lot, and enjoying special evenings of karaoke, poker, movies, and even a 50th birthday party for rider Aaron Gryder.

In addition to Gryder, interviews with Triple Crown wining jockeys Mike Smith, Victor Espinoza, among others revealed their concerns of the new experience, but also brought to light a special camaraderie for the riders, establishing closer relationships inside the closed quarters. 

“We were very proud to tell this story of management and the jockeys coming together during this once in a lifetime occurrence,” said John Hennegan. “The seriousness of the safety measures employed by Santa Anita was eye-opening. We were under the same protocols as the jockeys and took every precaution to document this important time in history. Playing a small part in telling a transparent story was extremely gratifying, and was saying to the rest of the world ‘we can do this.’”

The program reveals that during the time of the revised spring meeting at Santa Anita, not one jockey or essential personnel tested positive for Covid-19. A total of 1800 jobs were saved. In July 2020, the NBA, NHL and MLS returned utilizing sports bubbles.

The Hennegan Brothers produced the Eclipse Award-winning documentaries in 2008 “The First Saturday in May,” which aired on HRTV, and in 2015 for “Ironman Perry Ouzts,” which aired on AT&T U-Verse Sports. This is NBC Sports’ sixth Eclipse Award in the Feature-Television category since 1999.

Judges in the Television Features category were Liz Bronstein, television show Runner and executive producer, and creator the Animal Planet 2008-9 series “Jockeys”; Lenny Shulman, Emmy Award-winning writer/producer who also served as BloodHorse Features editor; and Chris Svendsen, producer-director for CBS Sports.

Audio/Multimedia Internet – Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN)  

In “To Hell and Back: Belmont Marks A Deserved Triumph for New York City,” writer and narrator Joe Bianca and producer Patty Wolfe collaborated on a Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN) multimedia presentation of Bianca’s tribute to the Belmont Stakes, a New York sports institution at Belmont Park for more than 100 years and its importance during a year in which the city was ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic.

This is the first Eclipse Award for Bianca, from Brooklyn, N.Y., and the second Eclipse Award for Wolfe, from Orlando, Florida. Wolfe shared the honor in 2018 with Christie DeBernardis for the TDN Multimedia piece on Off the Track Thoroughbred (OTTB) programs.  

“Winning an Eclipse Award is an honor like no other in racing and I’m immensely grateful to have been selected this year,” said Bianca, associate editor of TDN. “I want to thank our producer Patty Wolfe and her incredible team of talented editors for illustrating my words so beautifully. Also thank you to our publisher Sue Finley for her steadfast support for my work as we branch out into different types of media at TDN. It has obviously been a very difficult and tragic year, but I’m so proud and thankful to have moved people with one of the inspirational success stories of 2020 in an ode to my beloved hometown."

“This video is a reminder of the things we always had but almost lost,” said Wolfe. “Other professional sports were not competing at that time, and New York had just been through a nightmare with the pandemic. NYRA’s running of the Belmont Stakes in June was momentous. Talking directly into his computer, Joe’s authenticity was compelling as he put the magnitude of the moment into words.”

The video was posted on June 19, 2020, one day before the Belmont Stakes, which was run this year without fans in attendance. Bianca’s narration and text recalls the rich history of Thoroughbred racing in New York and Belmont Park, which first hosted the Belmont Stakes at its current site on the Queens/Long Island border in 1905. With Wolfe weaving together archival racing footage with images of New York City strained by crises over many decades, and now impacted more than ever the current pandemic, Bianca’s emotional words reveal the city’s grit and resilience.

“We’ve proven it time and time again. We bounced back from 9/11 with solidarity and generosity and went about our lives. When outsiders predicted chaos, we took care of our city during the 2003 blackout and again through Hurricane Sandy. Crime plummeted exactly when the city was at its most vulnerable. Yes, there’s bluntness and some rudeness and if you’re a tourist you might’ve been bumped out of the way once or twice by a muttering New Yorker. But there’s also compassion, understanding and empathy. You can’t survive in a city of 8,000,000 without all of those attributes.

Because of that, we get a summer. We get to live our lives with reasonable precautions for the next few months. And amid a sports desert, racing has been an oasis. So it’s fitting that on the first day of that summer, we get: the Belmont Stakes. The first major sports attraction in New York since the pandemic descended upon us.”

The winning entry can be viewed: here

Honorable mention in the Audio/Multimedia Internet category went to ESPN.com for its multimedia presentation of “This House is Condemned” for ESPN Investigates Bloodlines, reported and hosted by 2010 Feature/Commentary writing Eclipse-Award winner Wright Thompson and executive producer Eric Neel, which was posted on Sept. 2, 2020; and to 2019 Eclipse Award Multimedia winner Horse Racing Radio Network (HRRN) for 2020 HRRN Fantasy Derby, which aired on HRRN on May 2, 2020.

Judges in the Audio/Multi-Media Internet category were Glenn Crouter, former lead television anchor for Woodbine Live Network and sports and lifestyle announcer for Newstalk 1010 in Toronto; Bob Curran, longtime vice president of corporate communications for The Jockey Club and graduate of the St. Bonaventure University journalism program; and Julie Sarno, freelance writer, former editorial staff member of The BloodHorse, staff member at The Meadowlands, staff member and Department head at Del Mar.

Photography – Alex Evers

Evers, from Hermosa Beach, Calif., has won his first Eclipse Award for his photograph of the 15-horse-field in the 146th Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs rounding the first turn before a nearly empty racetrack. Due to COVID-19 restrictions instituted by Churchill Downs just weeks before the event -- for the first time -- America’s most historic race was held with no fans in attendance.

A photographer with Eclipse Sportswire since 2010 and other international outlets, Evers’ photo was taken shortly after 7 p.m. ET with a remote Canon 5D Mark IV camera mounted on 13-foot light stand. The image displays a completely empty box area in the foreground facing the Derby field passing by in fading sunset, leaving behind the homestretch of the expansive pavilions and the signature Twin Spires in gathering shadows.

“That was a story that I wanted to tell,” Evers said. “It was a unique day. There was an eerie feeling of emptiness at the track, and I wanted to juxtapose that against this massive group of horses. The elevation of the shot with the ladder was the key. Pulling back wide and showing the rows of empty seats in front of the track as the horses went by.”

Having photographed a dozen Kentucky Derbies since 2006, Evers prepared for the event about one month before by creating “story boards” of shots he wants to use with remote cameras set up at various points at Churchill Downs. Virtually all of those cameras were placed at a low vantage point for racing shots, but the elevated shot along the first turn was the only one used for scenic purposes.

At about 10 p.m. that evening Evers viewed his photo for the first time. “I wasn’t really pleased with my racing shots, but this one on the first turn really stood out.”

Evers describes receiving his first Eclipse Award as overwhelming.

“It’s been a lifelong dream to be recognized for a photograph. It‘s so special to share it with my family. I wish my grandfather were here because he took me to Hollywood Park and we sat in the Cinema Terrace. I used to dress up in jockey silks and go to the track and bother (Hall of Fame jockey and Eclipse Award winner) Chris McCarron.”

Evers added, “I sometimes feel like an ambassador of the sport, trying to show its beauty of those inside and outside racing.”

Evers credits the late Michael Marten, who won the 1995 and 1999 Eclipse Awards for Photography, as a mentor and inspiration.

The winning photograph can be viewed here

Judges in the category were Mark Abraham, freelance photographer and currently deputy director of the United States Senate Press Photographers’ Gallery; Rob Carr, staff sports photographer with Getty Images; and Mike Kane, veteran Thoroughbred journalist and photographer.

The 2020 Eclipse Awards ceremony will be a virtual event. It will be televised live on TVG and streamed on other outlets on Thursday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

In addition to Spendthrift Farm, Eclipse Awards sponsors include Keeneland, Roberts Communications, Four Roses Bourbon, Daily Racing Form, Breeders’ Cup, FanDuel, The Stronach Group, TVG, Dean Dorton, Jackson Family Wines, Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, and Hallway Feeds.

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