Familiar New York faces among Eclipse Award winners for racing excellence

December 10, 2019

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Led by jockey Javier Castellano, older male Honor Code and female sprinter La Verdad, several familiar faces from the New York Racing Association's circuit received horse racing's highest honors at the 45th annual Eclipse Awards on Saturday evening at Gulfstream Park.

Castellano received his third straight Eclipse as the nation's top jockey, having broken his own earnings record with $28,120,767 in 2015, as well as leading the nation with 344 victories. Castellano, 38, rode 17 Grade 1 winners last year, including Honor Code in the Metropolitan Handicap and Whitney Stakes, Twilight Eclipse in the Man o' War and most memorably, Keen Ice to a dramatic upset of Triple Crown champion and Horse of the Year American Pharoah in the Travers at Saratoga Race Course. It was Castellano's fifth Travers victory, the most by a jockey in the race's 146-year history.

"This has been a remarkable year not only for myself, but also for racing," said Castellano. "I want to say thank you to the trainers, to the owners who allow me to ride your horses. I value your support, and I'm excited to see what the future holds. I don't want to forget the assistant trainers, the grooms and everyone behind the scenes. I want to also give thanks to my agent, Matt Muzikar; it was a fantastic year and I couldn't have done it without your help. I want to end by thanking my family for their support, it means so much to me and I could not have done it without you guys, especially my mom."

La Verdad, trained by Linda Rice for Sheila Rosenblum's Lady Sheila Stable, edged Wavell Avenue, 98-90, in the voting for Female Sprint Champion. Now 6, the New York-bred daughter of Yes It's True won the Grade 2 Distaff, the Grade 3 Vagrancy, and the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom, along with the Iroquois and Dancin Renee Stakes, before closing out 2015 with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

"It was a terrific evening," said Rice. "We had a great year with La Verdad; 2014 was good, 2015 was better. So excited to be nominated to the Eclipse Awards and to come down here and have her voted Eclipse Award Filly Sprinter of the year was fantastic. She has been a tremendous racehorse for us. We've enjoyed her, and a lot of other people have too. She's very special, and I'm so happy that she got to go out with that type of an award."

Older Male champion Honor Code, trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey for Lane's End, Dell Ridge Farm and Teresa Viola, fell below third only once in six starts in 2015, winning the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap in addition to the Met Mile and Whitney. He closed out his year with a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic, and was 3-0-2 from six starts with earnings of $2,075,660.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Big Blue Kitten, long a stalwart in the NYRA circuit, fashioned a stellar record of 3-2-1 from six starts as a 6-year-old in 2015 en route to the Male Turf title. Among his victories were the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and the Grade 3 Fort Marcy, as well as the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park for trainer Chad Brown, a native of Mechanicville, N.Y.

Also taking home statuettes were the connections of Female Turf champion Tepin, whose summer in New York included a victory in the Grade 1 Longines Just a Game at Belmont and a pair of second-place finishes at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa and the Grade 1 Diana, and Male Sprinter Runhappy, who won the Grade 1 King's Bishop at the Spa.

Unanimously selected as both Horse of the Year and 3-Year-Old Male Champion American Pharoah made two appearances in New York, both of them unforgettable. On June 6, the Zayat Stable color-bearer became racing's 12th Triple Crown winner with a 5 1/2-length romp in the Belmont Stakes before 90,000 adoring fans and a national television audience, gaining sporting immortality as the first horse to sweep the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in nearly four decades. American Pharoah's dramatic Belmont win was selected as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's (NTRA's) 2015 "Moment of the Year".

Dubbed the "People's Horse" by owner Ahmed Zayat, who won two Eclipses as Top Owner and Breeder, and Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, voted the Top Trainer, American Pharoah stretched his winning streak to eight in the Haskell and then traveled to Saratoga to compete in the Travers, where two events have now been cemented as among the most memorable moments within the extensive, rich history of Saratoga Race Course. On the morning of Friday, August 28, more than 15,000 fans filled Saratoga's clubhouse and grandstand to get a brief glimpse of the Triple Crown champion. One day later and competing before a national television audience on NBC, a sold-out crowd of 50,000 witnessed Keen Ice's stunning upset in the "Mid-Summer Derby", besting the Triple Crown champion by less than a length.

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