Laura Hillenbrand has spent nearly her entire life as a self-described horse lover, and on Monday in Miami Beach, Florida, she was honored by the Turf Publicists of America for her contributions to the sport of Thoroughbred racing with the 36th annual “Big Sport of Turfdom” award.
Hillenbrand, who can barely leave her Washington D. C. home due to chronic fatigue syndrome and was unable to attend the luncheon, became just the fifth woman to win the Big Sport of Turfdom award.
The honor is one of many bestowed on the author of the New York Times best-selling book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend.” Hillenbrand joins owner Beverly Lewis, who shared the award with her husband Robert in 1995; Racing Hall of Fame jockey Julie Krone, and owners Penny Chenery and Alaire duPont as female winners of the award.
Longtime companion Borden Flanagan, a professor at American University in Washington D.C., accepted the award on behalf of Hillenbrand, who said the award was “one of the most extraordinary honors in my life.” Although she was not in attendance, a video was shown during the luncheon that documented both Hillenbrand’s battle with chronic fatigue syndrome and the worldwide success of her book.
The video also said Hillenbrand has received and granted more than 100 interview requests from media outlets, a major factor in her winning the award annually presented to an individual in the sport that has a positive relationship and seeks to promote racing. “I’ve never felt more fully alive than I did when I looked over the shoulders of these three men,” Hillenbrand said, referring to Seabiscuit’s owner Charles Howard, jockey Red Pollard, and trainer Tom Smith.
“This is the thing that I will leave behind, telling this story,” Hillenbrand said. “Because I probably won’t have any kids. Seabiscuit is my child.” Flanagan read a short speech during the luncheon from Hillenbrand, who personally thanked several individuals for their help in botht he book and its promotion, including Bob Curran Jr., the Turf Publicists of America president, and Eric Wing, a spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
“I feel uneasy about winning. Almost unlike anyone else that has won, I’m not a participant, only a spectator,” Hillenbrand’s speech said. “If [the Seabiscuit story] amounts to anything in racing, then it only amounts to a fraction of what racing has given to me.”
The Big Sport is one of two awards to be bestowed on Hillenbrand on Monday as she was slated to receive her second Eclipse Award for outstanding feature article later in the evening at the Fontainbleau Hilton Resort in Miami Beach. Others who received recognition during the luncheon were television personality Chris Lincoln, longtime emcee of the Big Sport luncheon and executive vice president of Winnercomm, and Michele Blanco, director of publicity for Calder Race Course and vice president of the Turf Publicists of America.
(c) 2002 Thoroughbred Times