The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) announced on Saturday the three Eclipse Award finalists in each racing division, and the top trio over fences are, in alphabetical order, Jury Duty, Optimus Prime, and Zanjabeel.
The top three were selected in balloting by NTRA racing secretaries, Daily Racing Form editorial employees, and members of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. The Eclipse Award winners, including Horse of the Year, will be announced on Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
That announcement comes one week after the steeplechase champions will be honored at the annual awards dinners and dance at the Maryland Club in Baltimore. The dinner is sponsored by the National Steeplechase Association and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association.
The three top steeplechase finalists were not unexpected. Zanjabeel, owned by Rosbrian Farm and Meadow Run Farm, won two Grade 1 races in 2018, the Calvin Houghland Iroquois in May and Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap in September. He also finished second in the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup (Gr. 1) and the Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 2) in the spring.
Rosbrian’s Optimus Prime won a Grade 1 race, Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup, in his American debut, finished third in the Lonesome Glory, and then ran away with the David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) at the International Gold Cup in October. Ricky Hendriks trained both Zanjabeel and Optimus Prime.
Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, trained by top Irish horseman Gordon Elliott, shipped to the United States for a 3 1/4-length victory in Far Hills’ $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1), America’s richest steeplechase race.
With the season’s final race meet, the National Steeplechase Association’s Safety Committee concluded the sixth year of its continual efforts to maximize the safety of jump racing’s horses and riders.
“The safety of our competitors has always—always—been the first priority of the National Steeplechase Association and its Board of Directors,” said NSA President Guy J. Torsilieri. “When the Board of Directors authorized formation of the Safety Committee in 2012, our intention was to state explicitly and emphatically that safety is the defining value in everything that we do and in every decision that we make.”
The Board of Directors mandated that the Safety Committee would look at every aspect of the sport and evaluate it scientifically and statistically to determine how to implement improvements that enhanced horse and rider safety.
“We had the right person to lead this effort, Reynolds Cowles, a distinguished veterinarian and steeplechase horseman who is a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners,” Torsilieri said. “With his diligent and thoughtful leadership, the Safety Committee has suggested dozens of improvements for jump racing, and the NSA board has adopted them.”
Cowles assembled a highly diverse committee of all stakeholders, including jockeys and former jockeys, trainers, veterinarians, stewards, NSA officials, and race-meet officials. Also, the Safety Committee has worked with jump-racing authorities in other countries to benefit from their experiences and research. Each year, the Safety Committee has recommended improvements to the sport that were adopted by the Board of Directors.
The Eclipse Awards ballots have been distributed, and the Daily Racing Form past performances for the top candidates contain six steeplechase contenders. In alphabetical order, they are: Stonelea Stable’s Balance the Budget, Hudson River Farms’ Iranistan, Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime, Mark W. Buyck Jr.’s Show Court, and Rosbrian Farm’s and Meadow Run Farm’s Zanjabeel.
While members of the three voting groups—National Thoroughbred Racing Association racing secretaries, Daily Racing Form editorial employees, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters members—can cast their ballots for any deserving candidate, most voters determine their picks from the Form’s past performances.
The ballots are due on Jan. 2, and the NTRA will announce the three finalists in each division shortly thereafter. The winners will be announced at the Eclipse Awards dinner at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24, one week after the annual awards dinner and dance sponsored by the National Steeplechase Association and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association at the Maryland Club in Baltimore.
Here are capsule descriptions of the six steeplechase candidates, based on the level of races they won and purse earnings.
W. James Price IV, father of Queen’s Cup Steeplechase co-chair Bill Price and a strong supporter of the Charlotte, N.C.-area race meet since its founding in 1996, died Tuesday in Towson, Md. He was 94.
During a long career in the brokerage industry, he became a partner and managing director of Alex. Brown & Sons, based in Baltimore.
A Baltimore native, he was educated at that city’s St. Paul’s School and enrolled in Virginia Military Institute in 1942. The following year, he enlisted in the Army and served as an infantryman in Europe. In the final months of the war, he was wounded twice behind German lines in the Huertgen Forest in Belgium, once by a land mine and then by enemy gunfire while returning to Allied lines.
He was hospitalized for 16 months while recovering from his injuries and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster. He completed his college education at Yale University, class of 1949. Known for his wry humor, he said that he and the late President George H.W. Bush had two things in common: they both went to Yale after the war, and they both detested broccoli.
Immediately after college, he formed his own brokerage firm, Price & Co., which specialized in mutual funds, then beginning to grow in popularity, and over-the-counter stocks. He joined Alex. Brown in 1952 as head of its mutual funds department.
That year, he married the love of his life, Marjorie “Midge” Beard of Philadelphia, and their marriage spanned 62 years to her death in 2014.
Time is running out to make your reservations for the gala annual Steeplechase Champions Dinner and Dance to be held Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Maryland Club in Baltimore. The sport’s 2018 champions will be saluted at the event sponsored by the National Steeplechase Association and the Steeplechase Owners and Trainers Association.
The 2018 leaders in all categories will be honored at the dinner and dance, which will kick off with cocktails at 6:30 p.m. Dinner will be at 7:30 p.m., followed by the award presentations. Music will be provided by The Release.
The reservations deadline is Monday, Jan. 7, and tickets are $150 per person. For further information and to RSVP, please contact Courtney Reid, the NSA’s manager of racing operations, at email@example.com.
The reservation form can be downloaded at https://www.nationalsteeplechase.com/wp-content/uploads/pdf/AwardsDinnerForm2018.pdf. The form also contains information on room reservations at the nearby Hotel Indigo at special rates.
Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime, winner of Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes races in three U.S. starts, has been awarded the top 157 rating by the National Steeplechase Association’s panel of expert handicappers.
Trained by Ricky Hendriks, the French-bred arrived in the U.S. in late spring and scored a 1 1/2-length victory in Saratoga Race Course’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) on Aug. 23. He came back in four weeks to finish third in Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), two lengths behind stablemate Zanjabeel.
Optimus Prime overwhelmed his competition in the International Gold Cup’s David L. “Zeke” Ferguson Memorial (Gr. 2) on Oct. 27, when he kicked clear to win by 18 1/4 lengths under regular jockey Ross Geraghty. Despite his limited U.S. campaign, the six-year-old ended the season third on the leader board with $167,500 in purse earnings.
Second in the rankings at 156 was Sideways Syndicate’s Jury Duty, who shipped over for the Far Hills Races’ $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) and won by 3 1/4 lengths for leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott. Jury Duty, a seven-year-old Irish-bred, led the 2018 earnings list with $270,000 from his visit to the United States.
Zanjabeel, owned by Rosbrian and Meadow Run Farm, was ranked third at 152 by the panel comprising Martin Chamberlin, Joe Clancy, and Will O’Keefe, who prepare the ratings under the supervision of NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo Jr.