Frakes, Steffanus, Rokos Win Media Eclipse Awards for Journalism Work

Posted Jan. 4, 2018

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers And Broadcasters (NTWAB) today announced the Media Eclipse Award winners in the Feature Commentary and News Enterprise Writing categories and the Photography category. 

Jason Frakes of the Louisville Courier-Journal, and a member of NTWAB, won the Feature/Commentary award for “Gunnevera Trainer Kidnapped Twice, Now in Kentucky Derby,” about trainer Antonio Sano.

Denise Steffanus, for Trainer magazine, has won the News/Enterprise Writing competition for “A Call for Common Sense in Testing,” about the issue of drug-related contamination in racetrack stabling areas. She's also an NTWAB member.

Nancy Rokos of the Burlington (N.J.) County Times has won the Photography Eclipse Award for her photo of fractious 2-year-old Power of Attorney taken in the paddock at Belmont Park. 

These winners will receive their trophies at the 47th Annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 25, at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The Eclipse Awards are presented by Daily Racing Form, Breeders’ Cup and The Stronach Group and produced by the NTRA. 

FRAKES RECALLS SANO’S ARDUOUS PERIL

Frakes, who is from New Albany, Ind. and began with the Courier-Journal in 2000, has been a sports reporter since 2006. He won his first Eclipse Award for “Gunnevera Trainer Kidnapped Twice, Now in Kentucky Derby,” which was published on April 30, 2017. 

In 2009, Antonio Sano, Venezuela’s most successful trainer, was kidnapped by seven men who pulled up in two SUVs outside a parking garage near his home in Valencia and held him hostage for 36 days, during which he survived on scraps of food. Frakes wrote that kidnapping is rampant in Venezuela, and a leaked government report estimated that there were nearly 17,000 kidnappings in 2009. The first time that Sano was kidnapped, his captors drove him to seven different cash machines to unload his account before setting him free. The second time he was abducted cost Sano a ransom estimated at $320,000 USD, all of the Sano family savings, and some from his friends, to set him free. One of those friends, Solomon Del Valle, delivered the ransom money to a vacant lot. Del Valle later would become one of the co-owners of Gunnevera.  

“I wasn’t the first person to tell Antonio’s story,” Frakes recalled. “I approached the story for people who don’t follow horse racing very much and maybe are learning about it for the first time. I told my editors that this was the most intriguing story of the Derby.” 

Once freed, Sano and his family knew they could no longer stay in Venezuela, so they move to Florida in December 2009, leaving behind 162 horses, many of whom went to trainers who helped pay for his ransom. Sano built a steady business in Florida, and through an ownership group bought Gunnevara for $16,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September sale. 

Frakes credits former Courier-Journal colleague, NTWAB member and five-time Eclipse Award winning writer Jennie Rees for mentoring him on the basics of covering the Derby.

“She took me under her wing, showed me the way around the barns and answered every stupid question I ever had,” he said.

The winning entry can be viewed here: https://www.courier-journal.com/story/sports/horses/triple/derby/2017/04/29/kentucky-derby-2017-antonio-sano-feature/307506001

Honorable mention in the Feature/Writing category included two works on the late four-time Eclipse Award winning jockey Garrett Gomez. Margaret Ransom wrote a two-part story titled, “The Pact: Garrett Gomez’s Greatest Legacy,” which was published on USRacing.com on July 18 and July 21, 2017. Dr. Rudolph V. Alvarado wrote “Remembering Garrett Gomez,” published on Nov. 1, 2017 in the Paulick Report.

Honorable mention also went to Eclipse Award winning writer and NTWAB member Bill Finley for “A Little Old Lady From Kansas, A Small Town, and the Kentucky Derby,” about the Whitham family and the 3-year-old McCracken, which was published Feb. 28, 2017, in the online magazine of the Thoroughbred Daily News, TDN Weekend. 

Judges in the Feature/Commentary category were Rob Longley, sports writer for the Toronto Sun; Bob Kieckhefer, racing writer for United Press International; Jenny Kellner, former New York Post Racing Writer and NYRA publicist; and Gary Yunt, former Denver Post writer and editor. 

STEFFANUS FOCUSED ON DRUG-RELATED CONTAMINATION IN STABLE AREAS

In “A call for common sense in testing,” which was published in Trainer magazine in the February-March 2017 issue, Denise Steffanus examined the potential for human and other forms of environmental contamination to affect drug testing of racehorses. She explored whether unintended exposure to certain drugs, even at microscopic amounts, can sometimes trigger drug testing positives and result in questionable convictions of trainers. 

In researching the article, Steffanus interviewed a wide range of equine medical professionals, including Dr. Steven Barker, director of the Louisiana State University Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory for 29 years, and Dr. Tom Tobin at the Gluck Equine Research Center. She also spoke to Mary Scollay, the Equine Medical Director of the Kentucky Racing Commission and a member of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium’s Scientific Advisory Committee; and Rick Baedeker of the California Horse Racing Board, among others, on the matter of contamination and how trainers may protect themselves from drug positives unrelated to performance enhancing drugs.  All stressed the need to be vigilant, especially with newer testing equipment becoming more and more sensitive.  

In some cases, Steffanus reported, horses may test positive for certain drugs simply by licking the stable surfaces. She advised trainers to be careful to clean their stables to avoid unintended contamination. Steffanus also pointed out the difficulty in these situations for “blue collar” trainers, who often have difficulties raising the necessary legal fees to defend themselves. 

Steffanus, from Cynthiana, Ky., is a former trainer, and was a writer and then a contributing editor for Thoroughbred Times from 1995-2012. She was overjoyed upon hearing the news of winning an Eclipse Award. “It’s the epitome of my career,” said Steffanus, who began writing for the local newspaper at age 12 in her hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa. “It’s what I’ve wanted since I began writing for horse racing publications.” 

The winning article can be viewed here: https://www.trainermagazine.com/articles/contamination-backstretch

Honorable mentions in the News Enterprise category went to Matt Hegarty for “Keeneland takeout hike gets rise out of players,” which first appeared on the Daily Racing Form website on Aug. 11, 2017, and to NTWAB member Bob Ehalt for “Racing’s ‘draft’ process: how DO owners decide who will train their horses?” which appeared in Thoroughbred Racing Commentary on Oct. 16, 2017. 

Judges in the News/Enterprise category were Reid Cherner, former writer and columnist for USA Today; Bill Kolberg, former assistant director of publicity for Santa Anita and Del Mar; and Robert Yates, former sports writer at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

ROKOS WINS FIRST ECLIPSE AWARD FOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Nancy Rokos, from Cherry Hill, N.J., has been a staff photographer at the Burlington County Times since 1983, and has won New Jersey Press Association (NJPA) awards throughout j her career. She has been going to New York tracks since the 1996 Woodward Stakes, when she photographed Cigar. 

On Oct. 7 of last year, Rokos was standing at the top of the Belmont Park tunnel shooting back toward the paddock prior to sixth race, when 2-year-old maiden Power of Attorney got fractious and reared up. Rokos caught jockey Luis Saez sliding off the horse, as pony rider Mario Paredes took a tight hold on the lead shank to stabilize Power of Attorney. In the background, the groom Santos Hernandez is seen moving out of the way, while others in the paddock cast their eyes on Power of Attorney. None of the individuals involved were injured. Power of Attorney finished eighth in the seven-furlong maiden special weight race. 

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect this,” said Rokos on winning her first Eclipse Award “I never expected this, but it’s breathtaking to win this prestigious award. I get such joy from photographing these unbelievable creatures – their beauty, stamina, grace and athleticism.” 

“It’s being in the right place in the right time, and in focus,” Rokos added. 

Rokos, who took the winning photograph with a Nikon D4S camera, and with a Nikon 70-200 2.8 lens, got interested in horse racing as a teenager when she attended the races at Garden State Park with her late mother, Frances, an avid racing fan.

“She was instrumental in my love of horse racing,” Rokos recalled. “Growing up I watched westerns on TV and that’s when my love of horses started. It blossomed when I had my own horses and started photographing horse shows, portraits and trail rides.  Horses and the camera went hand in hand.” 

The winning photograph can be viewed here: http://www.burlingtoncountytimes.com/e4413c6c-ac69-11e7-b347-93c899dd494a.html

Honorable mention in the Photography category went to the following individuals: Reed Palmer, for the finish of the Longacres Mile that appeared in the Aug. 2017 edition of The Racing Journal and in The BloodHorse on Aug. 17, 2017; Melanie Martines for a photo of California Chrome, which appeared on racingdudes.com on Nov. 16, 2017 and on brisnet.com; and to Alex Evers, for the finish of the 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which appeared in Thoroughbred Daily News on Nov. 13, 2017. 

Judges in the Photography category were: Rayetta Burr of Benoit Photo; Bill Denver, of EQUI-PHOTO; John Englehardt, former chief photographer for Ohio Thoroughbred Magazine; and Mark Abraham of United Press International. 

The Eclipse Awards are named after the great 18th-century racehorse and foundation sire Eclipse, who began racing at age five and was undefeated in 18 starts, including eight walkovers. Eclipse sired the winners of 344 races, including three Epsom Derbies. The Eclipse Awards are bestowed upon horses and individuals whose outstanding achievements in North America have earned them the title of Champion in their respective categories. Those awards are voted by NTRA, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB). Eclipse Awards also are given to recognize members of the media for outstanding coverage of Thoroughbred racing. 

Edited NTRA release with additional content by Dick Downey