NTWAB Announces Annual Awards Winners

Posted Sept. 2, 2016

Longtime broadcaster Dave Johnson and Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze are among the Thoroughbred industry standouts who will be honored by the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters at the association's 57th annual Awards Dinner on Nov. 2 at Altadena Town & County Club in Altadena, California.  Scott Hazelton of TVG will emcee the dinner.

Members of the NTWAB also voted to honor longtime writer Hank Wesch and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Former jockey Rene Douglas will receive a special award.

Dave Johnson, the host of Down the Stretch on SiriusXM but best known as the longtime announcer of the Triple Crown races for ABC Sports, will be feted with the fourth annual Jim McKay Award for broadcasting excellence. Johnson’s trademark of punctuating his race calls with his catchphrase of “and DOWN the stretch they come” – as well as his accuracy – were ingrained in generations of race fans and brought positive attention to the sport as a recurring guest on Late Night with David Letterman. After his career started at Cahokia Downs, Johnson’s work took him everywhere from Fairmount Park to Hialeah Park, Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Saratoga, the Meadowlands and Santa Anita Park.

Baze, the winningest jockey in racing, will be honored with the Mr. Fitz Award typifying the spirit of racing. Having retired in June, Baze’s blue-collar work ethic and attention to detail with his mounts made him the king of Northern California racing. He received a Special Eclipse Award in 1995 for being the first jockey ever to win 400 or more races in a year for four consecutive years, and his fellow riders recognized him with the 2002 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.

Wesch will receive the Walter Haight Award for career turf writing excellence, having completed a nearly 50-year career as a newspaper sportswriter with his retirement in September 2010. The last 36 years of that career were spent at the San Diego Union-Tribune where, along with covering 20 Kentucky Derbys, five Preakness Stakes, eight Belmont Stakes and 20 editions of the Breeders’ Cup, Wesch became the dean of documenting racing at the boutique meet that is Del Mar. He also authored the popular book “Del Mar, Where The Turf Meets The Surf,” and he remains an integral part of the track’s fabric as the lead writer for the track’s media notes.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) will be presented with the Joe Palmer Award for long and meritorious service to racing. Founded in 1954 by 11 racetrack veterinarians, the AAEP has grown to serve nearly 10,000 members worldwide who work to improve the health and welfare of the horse. In the wake of the tragic deaths of three horses during the telecast of the 1990 Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park, the AAEP developed the “On Call” program to assist racetrack management with the media and live coverage of major races throughout the country. As part of the “On Call” program, media-trained equine veterinarians are available to respond to crisis situations and to answer questions about veterinary medicine. In line with its mission to improve equine safety and welfare, the AAEP formed its Racing Task Force in 2008 to evaluate catastrophic injuries and medication usage.

Douglas, whose career was cut short when a 2009 spill left him paralyzed from the waist down, will be presented with the second annual Bill Mooney Award for displaying courage in the face of tremendous adversity. The inaugural honor was presented in 2015 to Mooney, the longtime turf writer and historian who continues to battle cancer. Despite physical and emotional setbacks, Douglas has persevered to become a successful owner in racing, most notably campaigning multiple Grade I winner Private Zone as part of the Good Friends Stable ownership group.

The NTWAB Awards Dinner, which will is traditionally held during Breeders' Cup week, will also feature a silent auction offering autographed racing industry collectibles, memorabilia and halters wore by prominent stallion and race winners. The event is set to run from 5-9 p.m. The Awards Dinner is the NTWAB’s only fundraiser, and a portion of the proceeds from the event are used toward scholarships for prospective Thoroughbred racing journalists and to support Thoroughbred industry charities.

Tickets for the event are $75 for NTWAB members or $100 for non-members and guests. Invitations will be mailed to members, and non-members can request an invitation by contacting Loren Hebel-Osborne at lorenpr@aol.com.