Mineshaft and Funny Cide, winners of Maryland's premier races, soared to the summit of their sport last night by capturing Eclipse Awards at the annual black-tie gala honoring horse racing's top achievers. The banquet took place at an oceanside resort in Hollywood, Fla.
Mineshaft captured the supreme award: Horse of the Year. His victory in the Pimlico Special was one of four Grade I stakes scores in 2003. Mineshaft also won an Eclipse statuette as outstanding older horse.
Funny Cide, whose emphatic 9 3/4 -length victory in the Preakness sent him to the Belmont with a chance to win the Triple Crown, captured the Eclipse as top 3-year-old male. Although Empire Maker defeated Funny Cide in the Belmont, Funny Cide defeated Empire Maker in the Eclipse race, 150 votes to 92.
Funny Cide's winning a coveted Eclipse capped the often-hardscrabble career of Barclay Tagg, his trainer. Regarded as the consummate horseman, Tagg labored most of those years in Maryland, winning a big race every now and then, but more often than not being frustrated in his attempt to attract top horses to his barn.
"I grubbed along for a long, long time," said Tagg, now based in New York. "This is an extremely prestigious award. It makes me very, very happy."
Robin Smullen, Tagg's mate, assistant and Funny Cide's exercise rider, said that "to see Barclay win an award like this is truly overwhelming to me."
She said Tagg is a perfectionist in a sport in which nothing ever goes perfectly. But the overriding goal, she said, is to produce a horse like Funny Cide, to produce a champion.
"To have somebody so deserving win this award," Smullen said, "it's just fantastic."
Even Bobby Frankel, trainer of Empire Maker, gave a nod to Funny Cide. He had said in the weeks before the awards that he believed Empire Maker, winner of three Grade I stakes to Funny Cide's two, was the better horse.
Still, he said, referring to Funny Cide, "He won the Derby and Preakness. In my mind and my heart, I thought he'd win it. I think he deserved it."
For the first time, winners were determined by popular vote. In the past, votes by representatives of the Daily Racing Form, National Thoroughbred Racing Association and National Turf Writers Association were tallied within the group in an electoral-college scenario. The one-person, one-vote method was deemed to be the most fair.
In one of the most closely watched categories, Juddmonte Farms defeated Michael Gill for the award as outstanding owner.
Gill, who lives in New Hampshire, but races extensively in Maryland, won far more races (425) and earned far more money ($9.2 million) than any other owner. He won mostly low-level races and spent much of the year mired in controversy over his veterinarians' practices and his aggressive business techniques.
Juddmonte Farms, a pristine nursery in Kentucky specializing in quality, also won the Eclipse as outstanding breeder. It bred and raced the winners of 11 Grade I stakes. That was from only 122 starters who won 31 races (27 percent) and earned $6.3 million.
Jerry Bailey won his seventh Eclipse as top jockey and Bobby Frankel collected his fifth as top trainer. Nobody has more in either category.
Also receiving a coveted award in one of several media divisions was WBAL Radio in Baltimore for a feature about Pimlico and Maryland's racing industry broadcast May 17 during its Preakness coverage.
The winners and runners-up, with vote totals in parentheses:
Horse of the Year: Mineshaft (209), Congaree (11).
2-year-old female: Halfbridled (247), Ashado (1).
2-year-old male: Action This Day (114), Cuvee (42).
3-year-old female: Bird Town (96), Six Perfections (94).
3-year-old male: Funny Cide (150), Empire Maker (92).
Older female: Azeri (123), Sightseek (107).
Older male: Mineshaft (221), Congaree (11).
Sprinter: Aldebaran (137), Cajun Beat (74).
Female turf horse: Islington (90), Heat Haze (74).
Male turf horse: High Chaparral (138), Storming Home (73).
Steeplechase horse: McDynamo (225), Praise the Prince (4).
Owner: Juddmonte Farms (102), Michael Gill (51).
Breeder: Juddmonte Farms (171), Adena Springs/Stronach (36).
Trainer: Bobby Frankel (193), Richard Mandella (44).
Jockey: Jerry Bailey (211), Patrick Valenzuela (17).
Apprentice jockey: Eddie Castro (147), Ryan Fogelsonger (52).