Trainer Bob Baffert, who wasn't named as a finalist for a 2002 Eclipse Award in spite of an outstanding year, said he's dismayed at the way the awards are handed out. The three-time Eclipse winner (1997-99) as top conditioner in the nation also said he feels the voting process is flawed.
Baffert, who has led the nation in earnings several times and has come close to winning the Triple Crown on three separate occasions, says a complete overhaul is necessary in the Eclipse Awards process.
"Let me just say that I think Bobby Frankel deserves the award, hands down," Baffert said of this year's Trainer of the Year vote. "And I wouldn't trade the year I had for anything – training a dual Classic winner (War Emblem) and a Breeders' Cup winner who will probably be champion (Vindication). I mean, that's really what it's all about. But the voters are sending me a message and that's that they don't want me to win. I actually laughed when I saw the list (of nominees). Basically I think the whole system needs to be overhauled.
"First, I don't think the media awards should be called 'Eclipses.' I think they should be called something else. The Eclipse should be about excellence for an entire season, not about a writer who submits a story or a photographer who takes one picture. And the voting system is seriously flawed. Voters need to be held accountable for their selections and their choices should be put in print so everyone can see how they voted.
"And I think they should give out a whole lot of different types of awards, whatever they're called. Because the awards ceremony is so dull. I also think all the secrecy is odd. I mean, everyone knows who's going to win before they even go. They should make it a bigger event and give out a ton of awards; make it fun for everyone so everyone looks forward to going. If it weren't for my owners, I probably wouldn't go at all. That's how bad I think they've become."
Baffert said he isn't bitter about not being acknowledged for his outstanding year in 2002, but feels slighted by what he perceives as the motivation behind it.
"Whenever they need someone to promote the sport, who do they call? Me. And I give them most everything they ask for," Baffert said. "In Louisville, for example, I'd have some of those (reporters) calling me at 9 or 10 at night and I'd always have something for them. It's the same thing for (owner) Frank Stronach (by not making him a finalist). It's one thing if you don't like us, but something else entirely when we're not acknowledged because of it."
Baffert believes the Eclipse Awards selection process is a popularity contest. He said it should be about the horse's accomplishments on the track, as well as acknowledging the entire team responsible for the horse's achievements, including the assistant trainers, grooms, riders and foremen.
"There should be a certain criteria for a horse to be eligible, such as having at least one grade one win or be competitive in graded events or something," Baffert said. "A guy shouldn't be allowed to write a horse's name in the blank because he lives next door to the owner, or something crazy like that.
"I mean, Rock of Gibraltar as Horse of the Year? Give me a break. Whoever voted like that should have their vote taken away after selecting a horse who never even won in this country. It was like that whole French figure skating thing. Everyone knew who the best was, but they didn't win."