McGee, Hersh Earn Eclipse Writing Awards

Stories tell of Kent Desormeaux's turbulent journey, and Rene Douglas, Private Zone.

Kentucky-based turf writer Marty McGee is the winner of the 2013 Media Eclipse Award in the feature/commentary writing division, and Chicago-based Marcus Hersh landed the Eclipse in the news/enterprise category.

McGee will receive his first Eclipse Award for an article titled "For Desormeaux, Conflicting Views on His Struggles," about the difficult times of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux and the impact on his family, which appeared in Daily Racing Form April 20.

"I'm overwhelmed and deeply honored to receive this award," McGee said. "It is the culmination of nearly 30 years of work and the pinnacle of my profession. I decided I wanted to be a turf writer when I was 12, so this is huge.

"I am extremely grateful to my subjects, the Desormeaux family, for being as forthcoming as they were. I have been friends with Kent and Keith (Desormeaux) since we were together in Maryland in the late 1980s, and I am very thankful for them opening up to me and showing me their confidence that this story could be handled in the proper way."

Hersh won his writing award for "Dubai World Cup: Douglas Back at Racetrack for First Time Since Being Injured." The report appeared in Daily Racing Form March 26, 2013, from the United Arab Emirates, and concerned former jockey Rene Douglas and Private Zone, a horse Douglas discovered in Panama who was one of the favorites for the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I).

"I'm honored to win the award," said Hersh, who has been with Daily Racing Form since 1999. "The list of names who have won Eclipse Awards in the past gets a great deal of respect from me. You write these stories in the end for other people, not yourself, and it's rewarding to know they mean something."

McGee, born and raised in Louisville, Ky., has worked at the Form since 1992, following 6 1/2 years as a handicapper and racing writer in the sports department of the Baltimore Sun. He lives in Louisville with his daughters Kelly, 18, and Molly, 16.

A 1982 graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in journalism, McGee has worked as the chief correspondent for the Form at Keeneland and Churchill Downs for 20 years, has been on writing assignments to more than 15 states, and has attended the last 40 runnings of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) in his hometown.

In "Conflicting Views," McGee originally intended to interview Kent's older brother, Keith, who had just trained the 3-year-old Ive Struck a Nerve to win last year's Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans. It seemed ironic to McGee that the tables were turned. Keith was on the trail to the Derby and Kent, who had ridden three Derby winners, was not riding his brother's horse.

The story traces the journey of Kent's life in biographical detail, though his battles with alcohol; the break-up of his marriage to his wife, Sonia; his complicated relationship with his children; a second marriage; and his quest to regain the trust of trainers he once rode for on a regular basis. McGee interviewed Kent in Florida, and Keith in New Orleans, and the Desormeaux parents, Harris and Brenda, at the family home in Maurice, La. Throughout the story, the theme returns to Kent's view of his own life in contrast to his family's view of him.

Honorable mention in the feature/commentary category went to Tim Layden for "Out of the Darkness," a profile of former trainer Jeff Lukas and his life following a traumatic training accident in 1993, which was published in Sports Illustrated Oct. 30; and to Joe Nevills for "Finding Charley," about the author's eight-year search to find his grandfather's favorite race horse, which was published in the Form Nov. 9.

Hersh's story documents the positive implications of Douglas's engagement with Private Zone and his decision to travel to Dubai.

Douglas lost the use of his legs in an accident in May 2009 at Arlington Park. At first, he spurned horseracing while dealing emotionally with the implications of his injury, but he edged back into the sport while engineering the purchase of another Panamanian horse, Golden Moka. The same people that bought Golden Moka, Good Friends Stable, a group from the Chicago area who supported Douglas after his injuries, went in on Private Zone. Most of the owners, Douglas included, followed the horse to Dubai.

Hersh wrote: "Douglas sounds more like his old self than any time since his injury. He curses and cracks jokes. He has pored over the competition in the Golden Shaheen, a six-furlong race on Meydan's all-weather track. He says the local Godolphin runner, Mental, is the one to beat. Krypton Factor, last year's Shaheen winner, isn't the same this season. Trinniberg , the 2012 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner, might be a couple works short of his best, Douglas says, his voice no longer detached, freighted with sadness and anger."

"I was happy when I spoke to Rene and felt his enthusiasm for the experience. To have your life fundamentally changed the way Rene's was when he got hurt, especially when you're talking about an athlete, that's as difficult a thing as you can imagine." Hersh said. "I wanted to hear how he was approaching this thing, but also to get the story of the horse himself. It's not just a feel-good thing: Private Zone was a remarkable find."

Hersh also earned an honorable mention in this category for his in-depth analysis, Blinkers: A Closer Look at Their Impact on Racehorses, which was published in Daily Racing Form on July 4, 2013. An honorable mention also went to Ray Paulick for, "Florida Investigation: Vet Said Cibelli Told Him 'Keep Me Out of It,'"an investigative article on trainer Jane Cibelli which was published in the Paulick Report Sept. 18, 2013.

Judges for the news/enterprise category were Andrew Cohen, contributing editor at The Atlantic and senior legal analyst at CBS News; Ed DeRosa, of Bloodstock Research Information Systems and formerly with the Thoroughbred Times, and Bob Fortus, former racing writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The 43rd Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony will be held Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park Racetrack and Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.