Marylou Whitney, one of the most accomplished owners and breeders in Thoroughbred racing, along with the connections of Claiborne Farm and Team Zenyatta will all be honored with Eclipse Awards during the 40th annual ceremony in Miami on Jan. 17.
Whitney and Claiborne Farm will each receive the Eclipse Award of Merit for outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing.
Those associated with the champion racemare Zenyatta will be honored with the Special Eclipse Award which recognizes extraordinary service, individual achievements in, or contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
Owned by the Hancock family, Claiborne Farm celebrated its 100th year as one of the most influential and successful racing and breeding farms in the business this past year. Fittingly enough, the historic operation is the co-owner and breeder of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame, who has a chance to become the first horse bred and raced by Claiborne to win Horse of the Year honors.
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"Like virtually all racing fans, I grew up watching horses bred and raised at Claiborne Farm win many of our sport's most prestigious races," said Bob Elliston, president and CEO of Turfway Park and NTRA executive chairman of the Board of Directors. "As it enters its second century of operating Claiborne Farm, the Hancock family continues in an unwavering quest to raise quality Thoroughbreds the only way it knows how — that is, the Claiborne way."
Whitney, known to many as the "Queen of Saratoga," began a program to rebuild her racing and breeding business following the death of her second husband, C.V. Whitney, in 1992.
Whitney found and bought Dear Birdie who proved to be the foundation for Marylou Whitney Stables. Dear Birdie, the dam of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone and champion filly Bird Town, was named Broodmare of the Year in 2004.
Whitney bred, raced and stands Birdstone, who produced two classic winners in his first crop, 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, and Belmont Stakes winner and eventual 3-year-old champion, Summer Bird.
"I am honored and humbled to even be mentioned in the same sentence as the past winners," Whitney said.
Whitney is perhaps best known for her lifelong association with Saratoga Race Course and the city of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where she hosted many benefits and gala celebrations devoted to racing and worthy causes.
Team Zenyatta, led by owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs, jockey Mike Smith and racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, not only helped guide the champion mare to 19 straight wins before suffering her first career loss to Blame in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but helped move Thoroughbred racing off the racing pages and into the mainstream and social media spheres.
Throughout 2010, the star power of Zenyatta transcended Thoroughbred racing. She was selected to Oprah Winfrey's "O Power List" as one of the 20 most influential women of 2010. She was also featured in a photo spread in W Magazine. On Oct. 31, more than 10 million viewers tuned in to CBS's 60 Minutes to watch a feature on Zenyatta.
Zenyatta's participation in the Breeders' Cup Classic helped to nearly triple the national ratings for the ESPN telecast compared to 2009 levels. The telecast was also the highest rated Breeders' Cup since 1992.
Zenyatta, who has finished as the runner-up for Horse of the Year honors the past two seasons, will vie with Blame for the accolade in what is expected to be a close vote for the 2010 award.