The decision to hold the 42nd Annual Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park has reinvigorated the event like never before.
Tickets to a week-long series of fundraiser tournaments and cocktail parties are largely sold out, as are all 500 seats in the track's Sport of Kings theater, where the Eclipse Awards ceremony will be held.
"On a handful of occasions dating back to the late '90s, I believe we may have had a golf tournament in the days leading up to the event, but nothing to this magnitude," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of marketing and industry relations for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
A major reason for renewed enthusiasm about the ceremony honoring 2012's champions is its location at a racetrack.
"There is no question that moving the event to a racetrack has allowed us to do more things than we could have done in the past," said Chamblin.
For example, Gulfstream Park has packaged Thoroughbred racing's equivalent of the Academy Awards with the annual Sunshine Millions, a series of races created by The Stronach Group's predecessor Magna Entertainment as a way to promote head-to-head competition between Florida-breds and California-breds on the same weekend. This year's Sunshine Millions for Florida-breds will be held on the day of the Eclipse Awards, Jan. 19, while the Cal-bred edition will be run Jan. 26 at Santa Anita Park.
The $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic is the marquee event of the series' six races and could include a repeat showdown between Reeves Thoroughbred Racing's Mucho Macho Man, who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), and Ron the Greek, owned by Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable, and Jack Hammer. Ron the Greek finished second to Mucho Macho Man in the 2012 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic.
Also scheduled are a number of charity events including a golf tournament and a celebrity poker tournament each benefiting the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, a slots tournament benefiting The Race for Education scholarship program and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and a "Cocktail Party Under the Stars" and auction Jan. 18 benefiting the Gulfstream Thoroughbred Aftercare Program.
A "First Chance, Last Chance" Handicapping tournament will be held Jan. 19 and Jan. 20, which is a qualifier to the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.
"The beauty of this is that Frank Stronach built a beautiful facility that was made to host an event like this," said Tim Ritvo, president of Gulfstream Park. "With this event, it is the industry's goal to give back to an industry that has been good to us. We are looking to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars and, except for what we have to pay for the golf course, all of it goes to the charities."
For anyone who missed out on tickets to the Eclipse Awards but still wants to be part of the scene, the event will be broadcast on every TV screen throughout Gulfstream Park along with the bars and restaurants in the adjacent shopping center The Village at Gulfstream Park.
"We wanted to do something for the average fan to let them participate and become a part of it," Ritvo said.
Schedule of events leading up the Eclipse Awards Jan. 19 at Gulfstream Park
Jan. 15: Eclipse Charity Golf Tournament at The Westin Diplomat Golf Location benefiting Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
Jan. 16: Eclipse Charity Slots Tournament benefiting The Race for Education and Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
Jan. 17: Eclipse Charity Celebrity Poker Tournament benefiting the PDJF.
Jan. 18: Eclipse-eve Cocktail Party Under the Stars at Gulfstream Park benefiting Gulfstream Thoroughbred Aftercare Program
Jan. 19: Eclipse Awards Dinner, Awards Ceremony, and After Party.
· Sunshine Millions featuring six rich stakes events offering over $1,000,000 in purses.
· Daily Racing Form Handicapping Conference.
· "First Chance, Last Chance" Handicapping tournament (Jan. 19-20) and qualifier to the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.