Rees Story on Romans Named Eclipse Winner

Posted Jan. 5, 2016

Jennie Rees, a member of the NTWAB Board of Directors and past president of the organization, has won the 2015 Media Eclipse Award for Writing in the Feature/Commentary category for “Dyslexia Doesn’t Slow Down Keen Ice Trainer Romans.” The story takes readers through Dale Romans' journey to overcome a severe reading disability as a child on his way to becoming one of America’s top Thoroughbred trainers.

The article was first published on the Louisville Courier-Journal website during Breeders' Cup week on October 28, 2015 and appeared in the newspaper's hard-copy editions as well.

An announcement of the award was made today by the NTRA, Daily Racing Form and the NTWAB.

This is the fifth Eclipse Award for Rees, who retired immediately following Breeders' Cup after 34 years with the Courier-Journal. Rees spent the preponderance of those years as the publication’s horse racing writer, punctuated by her meticulous coverage of the races leading to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown each year. Rees, who lives in Louisville, won Media Eclipse Awards for magazine writing in 1988, for newspaper and news-enterprise writing in 1993 and 2011, respectively, and was the main writer on the Courier-Journal’s Eclipse Award-winning entry in the Multi-Media category in 2008.

Rees will be presented her trophy at the 45th Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony on Jan. 16, at Gulfstream Park. The Eclipse Awards ceremony and dinner is presented by DRF, Breeders’ Cup and The Stronach Group and produced by the NTRA.

“What a tremendous way to go out,” said Rees, who was raised in Lexington, Ky. “This whole year has been tremendous. To be voted in the Joe Hirsch wing of the Hall of Fame, covering a Triple Crown winner and a Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. I am proud that Dale’s story was written during a very busy week at the Breeders’ Cup. This was the kind of story that you want to spend time writing at other times of the year, and you want to take a week to write it. I think it’s a tribute to the power of the subject and Dale’s willingness to open up about a very difficult subject.”

Rees originally intended to write a column on Romans’ matriculation from a claiming trainer to running one of the nation’s preeminent operations. She was aware of Romans’ childhood dyslexia but had not pursued the matter in the past. The trainer broached the subject while being interviewed by Rees for a video to accompany the story. Later, Romans called Rees on another matter and, following up on the earlier conversation, the writer asked “if he thought he was stupid in school… And Dale said ‘Yeah.’” That led to Romans’ powerful reflections on the difficult period of his childhood, and the heft of the story was lifted.

Among other things, Rees discovered that Romans wrote a composition completely backward in the second grade, and that Tammy Fox, Romans’ lifetime partner for 25 years, did not know of Romans' dyslexia until after both of their children were born.

Some Breeders' Cup participants have traveled thousands of miles to get to Keeneland. Romans only had to trek the 75 miles from Louisville, but it reflects a long and arduous journey that started in an era when people were just beginning to understand that not everyone learns in the same way.

“I felt like I was in a dark room,” Romans said. “I was very shy and (had) zero self-confidence. I never wanted to be called on in class. We’d have a test and I’d think, ‘How do these people focus? I was here the same amount of time, and I can’t do it.’ It was frustrating. I’d zone out and would daydream all day.”

Rees interviewed Romans’ mother, Lynn, for whom the trainer gave loving credit for “providing him the groundwork to thrive,” and who enrolled the youngster in special classes at the University of Louisville. Rees also spoke to prominent Louisville businessman Frank Jones Sr., who has a string of horses with Romans.

Looking back... (Jones), believes finding a way to work through dyslexia has made Romans the trainer he is today. “He has the ability to absorb information, understand the successes other people have, putting it in his own mix of all the dynamics of racing,” Jones said. “That, and having a really good memory to recall what worked and what didn’t work. His inability to read and write, if you will, his mind has compensated by having the ability to absorb and retain the things he experiences and/or he gleans from other people’s experiences.”

The winning entry can be viewed here.

Honorable mention in the Feature/Commentary category went to Vinnie Perrone for “Hall of Fame Ride: Maryland Trainer Leatherbury takes place among Thoroughbred Racing Legends,” a profile of King T. Leatherbury, which appeared in the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred in August 2015; Joe Drape for “Ahmed Zayat’s Journey: Bankruptcy and Big Bets,” which appeared in The New York Times on June 5, 2015; and to Melissa Hoppert, also of The New York Times, whose article “A Storied Trainer and a Witness to History,” about Hall of Famer John Nerud, appeared on the publication’s website on June 6, 2015.

Judges in this category were Ed Gray, former Boston Herald racing writer; Lynne Snierson, former sports writer for the Boston Globe and the Miami News; Hank Wesch, former racing writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune; and Richard Rosenblatt, racing and sports writer for The Associated Press.

Edited NTRA release