by Jay Privman
ARCADIA, Calif. – Winners from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Japan, and Korea all remarked Thursday night at the 51st annual Eclipse Awards how winning a championship was either a dream come true, a significant milestone for their country of birth, or both.
Joel Rosario, who’s on the path to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and finally got an overdue first Eclipse Award as champion rider, said he “never thought coming from the Dominican Republic I’d be an Eclipse Award-winning rider.”
Fausto Gutierrez, a native of Mexico who trains Letruska, the champion older dirt female, said, “I think of this as the top of my career,” but hoped it also was only an intermediate stop on his ascent.
Yoshito Yahagi, who trains champion turf female Loves Only You, said her becoming the first horse based in Japan to win an Eclipse Award marked “a historic day for Japanese racing.”
Knicks Go, the Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male, is owned by the Korea Racing Authority.
“This is a special night for the Korea Racing Authority,” said its representative, Jun Park.
Essential Quality and Yibir, the latter based in Europe, are both owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin Racing, which races all over the world, as does Shadwell Stable, which owns 3-year-old filly champ Malathaat.
Gregory Clarke, representing Shadwell, accepted the award for Malathaat and called her “a breath of fresh air and a light for all of us” following the passing of Shadwell’s founder, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum.
Pyfer skipped law schoool
You didn’t have to be from another country to appreciate winning an Eclipse Award for the first time. Heck, you could have grown up just down street from Santa Anita.
Jessica Pyfer, who became the third female to win an Eclipse Award as champion apprentice rider, is the stepdaughter of accomplished local trainer Phil D’Amato. Pyfer, after earning a degree in political science, bypassed law school to become a jockey.
“This was a dream I had at the beginning of the year,” said Pyfer, who said she did not envision her dream coming true.
“I’m thankful I put law school aside to follow my dream,” she said.
More wins for Anderson
Joel Rosario’s Eclipse Award as champion jockey marked another achievement for his agent, Ron Anderson, who has represented Eclipse Award-winning riders like Jerry Bailey, Garrett Gomez, and Gary Stevens.
Anderson had a particularly good night Thursday. Rosario was the regular rider for Knicks Go, the Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male, as well as Jackie’s Warrior, the champion male sprinter. Rosario also rode champion 2-year-old filly Echo Zulu to her title-clinching victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Anderson also is the agent for John Velazquez, who was the regular rider for Malathaat, the champion 3-year-old filly.
Play that funky music
Winners were given about a minute to make their remarks before the house band would start to play them off the stage, which made for some rushed comments, an oversight, and an abrupt end to the Eclipse Award of Merit.
Keri Brion, trainer of champion steeplechaser The Mean Queen, is a darn fine trainer but also might have a future as an auctioneer the way she hurried through her speech to try and make all her points in the allotted time.
Joel Rosario was able to give a heartfelt shout-out to John Sadler, a Southern California-based trainer who was instrumental in Rosario’s ascension here in the early days of his career.
“He means everything to me,” Rosario said, choking up.
But Rosario was played off the stage before he could thank his family or his agent, Ron Anderson.
And Ambassador Earle Mack, who received the Eclipse Award of Merit, had his microphone cut before he was finished, leading to an awkward moment where he waved goodbye with the papers on which his speech was written without getting properly feted by the audience.
Mustari represents horseplayers
Justin Mustari, winner of the 2021 National Horseplayers Championship, received an Eclipse Award for that victory and remarked how everyone has that one horse or race held dear.
“Mine happens to be a $20,000 optional-claiming race,” he said, referencing his longshot score in the final of the NHC that gave him the title.