Horse racing’s equivalent of the Academy Awards takes place Thursday, Jan. 26 with the 52nd annual Eclipse Awards, held at The Breakers resort in Palm Beach, Fla. The Eclipse Awards recognize the best of the best in American Thoroughbred racing and are voted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), staff at Daily Racing Form, and members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). This year’s event is sponsored by John Deere, Keeneland, and The Jockey Club and will air on FanDuel TV starting at 7 p.m. ET.
Read on for some fun facts about the Eclipse Awards:
1) The Eclipse Awards began in 1971 as a way to consolidate previous awards and promote the sport of horse racing. Daily Racing Form and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations both honored champion racehorses during the mid-20th Century, the DRF starting in 1936 and the TRA in 1950. On occasion, they recognized two different horses as Horse of the Year, including in 1970 when the DRF voted for Fort Marcy and the TRA honored Personality. Racing publicist J.B. Faulconer chaired a committee in 1971 to bring together turf writers and executives, and a unified awards system was formed.
2) The awards are named after one of the most influential Thoroughbreds in history. Faulconer named the new awards after Eclipse, who was one of the most successful racehorses in the 18th Century in England and then became an even more accomplished sire whose genetic influence can be found in around 95% of modern-day Thoroughbreds. Read more about this legend and his impact on the sport – and the awards – in Keeler Johnson’s article.
3) There are 17 divisional Eclipse Awards along with the prestigious Horse of the Year Award. The Eclipse Awards honors horses by age (2, 3, and older), sex, and surface (dirt and turf), and there is an award for champion steeplechase horse, too. Eclipse Awards are also granted to the best jockey, apprentice jockey, owner, breeder, and trainer.
4) Eight horses have been voted Horse of the Year more than once. The first three came early in the awards’ history: Secretariat in 1972 and ’73; Forego (1974-’76); and Affirmed (1978-’79). The next five are John Henry (1981 and ’84), Cigar (1994-’95), Curlin (1997-’98), Wise Dan (2012-’13), and California Chrome (2014 and ’16).
5) Seventeen 3-year-olds have been voted Horse of the Year. The first was Secretariat in 1973 and the most recent was Authentic in 2020. Sixteen of the 17 were males and, naturally, all of them were also voted champions in their division. The lone female: Rachel Alexandra, who went unbeaten in 2009 through eight starts and defeated males three times.
6) Six fillies/mares have been voted Horse of the Year. They are: All Along (1983); Lady’s Secret (1986); Azeri (2002); Rachel Alexandra (2009); Zenyatta (2010); and Havre de Grace (2011). The aforementioned Rachel Alexandra is the only one of those half-dozen to have won the award at age 3, and All Along is the only female turf horse to win Horse of the Year.
7) Nine horses have been voted champion 2-year-old male and then gone on to win the Kentucky Derby in their 3-year-old season. That sequence was nearly routine during the first decade of the Eclipse Awards, as Riva Ridge, Secretariat, Foolish Pleasure, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid all capitalized on their early potential by winning the Derby (and three of them the Triple Crown). But there was a big gap after that, all the way to 2006-’07 and Street Sense. Since then, American Pharoah and Nyquist have added to their juvenile championship prestige by capturing the run for the roses – American Pharoah doing so en route to a Triple Crown sweep.
8) Four jockeys who were honored with an Eclipse Award as Best Apprentice Jockey also received an Eclipse Award as Best Jockey during their careers. They are Chris McCarron, Steve Cauthen, Kent Desormeaux, and Julien Leparoux. Cauthen, aka “The Kid,” won the Eclipse in both divisions in 1977, the year before he rode Affirmed to Triple Crown glory. Cauthen was also named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in ’77.
9) Since 1995, only eight trainers have won the Eclipse Award for their profession. Over the past quarter-century-plus, this category has been relegated to a select few – seven of the eight have won multiple Eclipses during this timeframe. The list: Todd Pletcher (seven, the most all time); Bob Baffert (four); Chad Brown (four); the late Bobby Frankel (four out of his total five); Bill Mott (three); Steve Asmussen (two); and Brad Cox (the most recent two in 2020 and 2021). Dale Romans won his sole Eclipse in 2012.
10) Other Eclipse Awards recognize lifetime achievements and media excellence. These awards have changed descriptions often, and sometimes are not awarded for a particular year. But the honorees in the media division for 2022 have already been announced.