The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers Association today Jan. 8 that Joe Drape has won the 2009 Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the Feature/Enterprise category for “Despite Outcry, Derby Owners Fall Silent on Drugs for Horses,” which appeared in The New York Times on April 30, 2009.
This is the second Media Eclipse Award for Drape, who resides in New York City. In 2002, he won the Features/Enterprise award for his coverage of the incident involving Autotote workers and that year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships Ultra Pick Six. Drape has been with the Times since 1998.
In the aftermath of the fatal injury to the filly Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Drape explored what had been done in the area of horse welfare in American racing during the previous year, and he questioned racing’s medical community on the effects of legal medications. He also asked for medical records of all potential starters in the 2009 Derby. Just three of the connections complied. Drape’s piece also found that many in the sport would like to see all but the medications that treat illness or injury eliminated.
Even with the prohibition of steroids in the past year, the United States continues to have the world’s loosest medication policies for Thoroughbreds, and there is a growing concern within the veterinary community that overmedication—with drugs like corticosteroids anti-inflammatories that can have dangerous consequences—and lax oversight have imperiled the safety and welfare of racehorses.
The aggressive use of legal drugs is a big reason this country has the worst mortality rate for Thoroughbreds, veterinarians say. In effect, they say, short-term fixes with legal drugs have left horses vulnerable.
“We had been wondering what kinds of medications and drugs were being used on racing’s biggest stages,” said Drape. “So we tried a different approach by trying to obtain veterinary records of the starters in the Kentucky Derby. Rick Porter and Larry Jones (owner and trainer of Derby starter Friesen Fire) complied with the request, so I decided to ask the other connections.
“I am grateful to those owners, horsemen and veterinarians and horse rescue groups who do push to make the game humane and contested on a level playing field. It not always a popular issue, but they keep it in the public eye. In researching this article, I found that we were further away from ‘hay, oats and water’ than I thought. Still, most everyone now acknowledges that this is a problem, and in recent months we have seen states and major races take a stronger stance to outlaw steroids and illegal drugs.”
Honorable mention in the Writing – Features/Enterprise category went to Vinnie Perrone for “Life Lived Large – Tale of Dickie Small,” about the career of the Maryland trainer. The piece was published in Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred on Feb. 9, 2009. Perrone won the Media Eclipse in this category in 2008 for his article in the same publication on the life of newspaper handicapper Clem Florio.
The panel of judges for the Features/Enterprise Writing category was comprised of Rob Longley of the Toronto Star, Fred Klein, former columnist for The Wall Street Journal, and Neil Milbert, former horse racing writer for the Chicago Tribune.
The Eclipse Awards are presented by the NTRA, National Turf Writers Association (NTWA) and Daily Racing Form. Eclipse Awards are bestowed upon horses and individuals whose outstanding achievements have earned them the title of Champion in their respective categories. Awards also are given to recognize members of the media for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing.
The 39th Annual Eclipse Awards will be held on Monday, January 18, 2010 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. For hotel accommodations and Eclipse Awards dinner reservations, contact Michele Ravencraft at the NTRA's Lexington office, (859) 422-2657, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.