Rees, Novak Win 2011 Media Eclipse Awards

Turf writers Claire Novak and Jennie Reese won Media Eclipse Awards for 2011, it was announced Dec. 28 by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

It was the first Eclipse Award for Novak, 25, a native of Lake Zurich, Ill., who now resides in Lexington, Ky. She won in the Feature/Commentary category for “Pressure off Durkin at Belmont,” which appeared on ESPN.com June 10.

Rees, the Thoroughbred racing writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal since 1983, earned her third Eclipse. The Louisville resident's winning submission, honored in the News/Enterprise category, was for “Breeders’ Cup 2011: Jockeys Rein in Their Emotions,” which appeared in the Courier-Journal Oct. 30.

Prior to this year’s Belmont Stakes (gr. I), Novak wrote a profile of the renowned race caller Tom Durkin, on his reflections weeks after his decision to step down early in 2011 as the NBC Sports’ “Voice of the Triple Crown.” In the piece, Durkin revealed his anxieties and nerve-racking preparations to leave the network position, but also portrayed a man more at peace with his new circumstances.

“It’s a great honor to win an Eclipse Award and something I wished for as a kid growing up,” said Novak, who began writing about Thoroughbred racing after graduating high school. She previously worked for The Blood-Horse in 2007 and 2008 and is still a regular contributor.

"Tom Durkin is one of the most recognized and respected fixtures of our industry," Novak added. "Everybody knows his name, but did people really know what he was going through calling these major network races?  I wanted to convey this emotional part of his career and his reaction to the changes he was experiencing.”

Novak, who founded Hopeful Farm Foundation for children with special needs in Lexington, also gave special thanks to Larry Goff, Web editor for the racing site on ESPN.com.

In Rees' article, she examined the circumstances and aftermath of the altercation between jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano, which ensued in the winner’s circle following the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Marathon and explored the reasons for how these situations are normally resolved.

“We’re always looking for stories that will be of interest to a general audience during the showcase weeks of racing coverage, such as the Breeders’ Cup,” Rees said. “Having covered Borel for years and also Castellano, the explosion of emotions from these two gentlemen after the Breeders’ Cup was jolting.

"It got me thinking about the unique dynamics of the jocks’ room. Unlike anything else in professional sports, not only do these highly motivated athletes have to go back in the locker room and be with their competitors, there’s the safety factor where their welfare on the track in large measure rests in each other’s hands.

“We felt it was a topic that had not been fully explored. I really want to thank my newspaper and sports editor Harry Bryan for committing the time and space to tell this story. But what made the story was all the jockeys who spoke so candidly about involvement in such sometimes unpleasant situations.”

Rees won her first Eclipse Award in 1988 for a profile of trainer D. Wayne Lukas, which appeared in the Sunday Magazine of the Courier-Journal, and won her second Eclipse for newspaper writing in 1993 on horse injuries. She also collaborated with other members of courierjournal.com for a 2008 Eclipse Award in Audio and Multi Media Internet category.

Honorable mentions in the Features/Commentary category went to Joe Drape for “A Day in the Life of Todd Pletcher,” which was published in The New York Times Aug. 21, and to Bob Ehalt for his two part series on the “1971 Triple Crown,” which appeared in Thoroughbred Times April 30 and May 21.

The panel of judges for the Feature/Commentary Writing category was comprised of Bob Curran of The Jockey Club; Jane Goldstein, former publicity director of Santa Anita Park; and Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun.

Honorable mentions in the News/Enterprise category went to Drape for “Ex-Racehorses Starve as Charity Fails Mission to Care for Them,” about the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which was published by the The New York Times March 18, and to Ryan Goldberg for "Lasix: Demystifying the Drug, Methods of Training Without it," which appeared in Daily Racing Form Nov. 17.

The panel of judges for the News/Enterprise Writing category was comprised of Michael Brunker of MSNBC.com; Reid Cherner of USA Today; and Bob Kieckhefer of United Press International.

The Eclipse Awards are bestowed upon horses and individuals whose outstanding achievements have earned them the title of champion in their respective categories. The equine and human awards are voted upon by NTRA, DRF, and members of the NTWAB. Awards also are given to recognize members of the media for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing.

The 41st Annual Eclipse Awards will be held Jan. 16, 2012, at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Calif. For hotel accommodations and Eclipse Awards dinner reservations, contact Michele Ravencraft at mravencraft@ntra.com.

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