Gill Outlines Accomplishments, Disappointment in Not Getting Eclipse Award

Gill Outlines Accomplishments, Disappointment in Not Getting Eclipse Award
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Mike Gill, led the owners' lists for stable earnings and races won in 2003.
Michael Gill, who ended 2003 as the leading owner in both categories of money earned ($9.2 million) and races won (425), and in doing so became only the ninth owner in 100 years to claim both titles, issued a statement Thursday following the announcement earlier this week of the Eclipse Award for "Outstanding Owner."

Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms earned both the leading owner and breeder awards. As an owner, Juddmonte sent out 33 winners from 122 starters to earn $6,265,030. In the breakdown of voting, Juddmonte received 102 first-place votes compared to Gills 51 first-place votes.

The following is a statement from Gill on his losing the Eclipse Award vote for Outstanding Owner.

"I'm naturally disappointed in not winning the Eclipse Award. The numbers we put up last year not only were stronger than those posted in recent years that were good enough to win, but were record breaking in some categories. My stable last year became just the ninth in the last 100 years to lead the country in both money and races won. We enjoyed unprecedented success, but that wasn't good enough for some voters.

I can't help but think that the vote was a vote against me, rather than a vote against the accomplishments. And I don't understand that. We all cheered "Seabiscuit" last year, a movie about hope and the underdog rising from obscurity to challenge racing's establishment and emerge victorious.

This industry embraced the story of these unlikely heroes who overcame incredible odds. Charles Howard was an American businessman who started out with nothing to become the leading money-winning owner in an era dominated by the Whitneys and Vanderbilts. How am I any different than Howard?

The trainers I have are trainers nobody ever heard of. Well, who ever heard of Tom Smith before Charles Howard gave him a chance? And I have a collection of horses not so unlike Seabiscuit early in his career, who may not have risen to the top of the game but who collectively won 425 races and $9.2 million. Charles Howard and Tom Smith are cheered. Michael Gill and Mark Shuman are jeered. I don't understand why?

If Seabiscuit's story was set today rather than the late 1930s, would Howard and Smith be greeted with the same skepticism and criticism from racing circles?

The sport needs stars and I hope to have stars, too. But the sport also needs a backbone, and claiming races make up the majority of racing in America. It's racing's backbone. The people who race at Suffolk or Charlestown or Laurel or any number of similar smaller tracks, people who devote their lives to racing for little money, they give as much of themselves to this sport as anyone else.

I love horse racing as a sport, but I've approached this game as a business and have enjoyed great success. I make no apologies for my interest in running an aggressive and profitable operation. I've proven that an unknown can enter this game and win with smarts and a successful business model. Is that wrong?

There are many in this sport who feel threatened by an outsider and an American success story coming in and breaking their records, but I'm proud of the records that our operation have set so far, and I'm more determined than ever to continue to set records in this sport."-- Michael Gill

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