Give It Back Frank
by Ray Kerrison, New York Post
GIVE it back, Frank.
In one of the biggest Eclipse Award upsets in 25 years, Frank Stronach, the renowned owner, breeder and racetrack entrepreneur, was awarded the Eclipse this week as the nation's outstanding owner.
He did not deserve it.
In the final count of 242 ballots from three voting blocs - the National Thoroughbred Racing Associations/Equibase group, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers Association - Stronach beat out IEAH Stables by a single vote, 47-46.
Stronach won because the vote was tainted. It was not a true bill. The honorable course to correct the injustice is for Stronach to return the trophy.
Give it back, Frank.
This is what happened: The turf writers voted 22-21 in favor of IEAH over Stronach, a close call. The Daily Racing Form bloc voted overwhelmingly in favor of IEAH over Stronach, 20-9
But the NTRA/Equibase vote was a shocker. It turned up 17-4 in favor of Stronach, a result that rocked the crowd at the awards ceremony at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Fla.
The problem is that the NTRA bloc vote includes many racing officials working at Stronach's racetracks. They're on his payroll. They voted for the boss.
They may well have voted in good conscience. After all, a lot of turf writers not on Stronach's payroll voted for him. But the conflict of interest is glaring. And unacceptable. It just does not look good. These voters should have recused themselves at least.
No one is accusing the NTRA voters or Stronach of any impropriety, but the net effect is that this poll puts the Eclipse Award institution itself under a cloud. It should not be that way because all the other awards, including Stronach's win as the nation's outstanding breeder, were earned the hard and proper way.
Stronach had credentials to be a strong contender in the controversial category. His horses won 11 graded stakes races in the year, three of them Grade 1's, by his splendid mare Ginger Punch.
At the time most ballots were cast, he also led all owners in money won. It was just in the last week of the year that his stable was overtaken in money by Zayat Stables. In short, Stronach had a terrific owner's year.
But IEAH Stables, whose principals are Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo, had a blockbuster year. They won an incredible 11 Grade 1 races with eight different horses, including Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Big Brown, and sprinter Benny the Bull.
In addition, Big Brown and Benny the Bull each won Eclipse Awards as the outstanding 3-year-old and outstanding sprinter, respectively. Stronach did not campaign a single champion.
The category was contentious - 16 different ownerships received votes - but IEAH stood neck and shoulders above the crowd. Going into Monday night's coronations, they were hot favorites to win.
When Stronach's name was announced as the winner, Iavarone and his party reportedly appeared stunned. Later, Iavarone said jokingly, "I'm asking for a steward's inquiry." Well, many a truth is spoken in jest.
It's not possible to detail the exact influence Stronach employees had on the outcome because the NTRA/Equibase and Daily Racing Form blocs do not disclose individual votes. It has been that way since the Eclipse Awards were first launched. Only the turf writers operate under full transparency and reveal who voted for whom.
The controversy arising out of this year's ownership vote, however, should prompt an examination of the merit of secret ballots in Eclipse Award voting - and maybe a revision.
Stronach, who was not among the 500 guests at the Eclipse blowout Monday night, is one of the towering figures in American racing today. The 76-year-old Austrian-born mogul has won six Eclipse Awards as outstanding breeder and now four Eclipses as outstanding owner. No one else comes close to those totals.
As a breeder, his horses rolled up 603 wins last year, earning $19.2 million. As an owner, he won 114 races earning $6.6 million.
As founder and chairman of Magna Entertainment Corp., Stronach is the largest racetrack operator in America. His prime holdings are Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park and Pimlico/Laurel.
But his big spending and erratic management have run up debts exceeding $600 million, prompting the company to disclose last October that its ability to continue in the current economy "is in substantial doubt."
He now finds himself in a difficult and ultimately untenable position as winner of the 2008 Eclipse Award for outstanding owner through a suspect ballot.
The embarrassment to him and the Eclipse establishment is easily fixed. No stewards' inquiry. No foul claim. No disqualification.
Just give it back, Frank.
This article was originally published on nypost.com
Get more articles by Jim Hurley here...