In the authentic setting of the Historic Castle Green in Pasadena, Calif. two nights prior to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, three individuals were honored for their significant contributions to the sport of horse racing.
For the 49th time, the National Turf Writers Association hosted the night’s festivities, which centered on Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, retired Turf writer Maryjean Wall, and the late track announcer Luke Kruytbosch.
Kruytbosch received the Mr. Fitz award, named after deceased trainer James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who conditioned such horses as Seabiscuit and Nashua. Owner/breeder Mike Pegram accepted the Mr. Fitz award on behalf of Kruytbosch, who was posthumously given the honor for typifying the spirit of horse racing during his years of working as a track announcer.
“After one beer, we got to know each other; after two beers, I realized how knowledgeable he was about the sport; and after 12 beers, I realized I was no match for this guy,” said Pegram of Kruytbosch, who was known for his fun-loving, charismatic persona that was exemplified through his race calling.
Kruytbosch died of an apparent heart attack at age 47 in July. At the time, he was the track announcer at Churchill Downs and Ellis Park. A Virginia native, Kruytbosch previously called races at Hollywood Park, Turf Paradise, Kentucky Downs, and Ruidoso Downs, among others.
Wall, introduced by turf writer Bill Christine, received the Walter Haight Award for the excellence she displayed over the years while covering racing. Haight, a columnist for the Washington Post, was known both for his sharp writing skills, as well as his abilities as a public speaker.
Christine explained that Wall, who covered races for the Lexington Herald-Leader, had an advantage over her colleagues because of her prior experience as a rider in her native Canada.
Considered a pioneer of the turf writing industry having been one of the first women to boldly take on the role, Wall has earned three Eclipse Awards. Recently retired to work on her dissertation in doctoral study at the University of Kentucky, Wall also continues to stay active as a rider and a racing blogger.
McCarron, a dual Eclipse Award winning rider and the all-time leading jockey in purses earned when he retired in 2002, was on hand at the dinner to receive the Joe Palmer award.Named for the former New York Herald Tribune Turf writer, the Palmer Award is given to individuals for meritorious service to horse racing.
McCarron, who was introduced by actor-comedian Tim Conway, is a native of Boston and now serves as executive director and instructor of the North American Racing Academy. Based at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, the school has accepted 25 students in its third class and so far has turned out four graduates riding professionally with more waiting in the wings.
McCarron’s other major contribution to the horse industry was creating the Don MacBeth Memorial Fund for disabled jockeys with his wife, Judy, and Conway in 1987.
The NTWA dinner also featured a silent auction, as well as a live auction of a painting by Robert Clark, which was sold for $2,000 to racing and bloodstock manager John Adger.