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The pipers bring in the large permanent Sovereign Award trophy before the start of the ceremony.

The Sovereign Awards

Date: 04/05/2012

The 37th annual Sovereign Awards, saluting outstanding achievement in Canadian Thoroughbred racing and breeding in 2011, were handed out at a ceremony on Thursday night at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. Unlike their U.S. equivalent, the Eclipse Awards, horses must have started at least 3 times in Canada to qualify (2 for juveniles). Winning connections are presented with a trophy which is a replica of English racing great St. Simon. Sportsnet host Jason Portuondo, who returns to the Woodbine TV broadcast team this season, was the master of ceremonies.

Jim Lawson, Chief Steward of the Jockey Club of Canada, presents the Horse of the Year award to owners Chris Block and his father Dave Block of Team Block.

The Horse of the Year title went to Never Retreat, who was also named Champion Turf Female. The daughter of Smart Strike was raced by Team Block (Dave Block and his son, trainer Chris). After a disappointing 6th place finish in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) at Churchill Downs, she shipped north and was second in the Nassau Stakes (G2) in June, then won the Dance Smartly (G2) and Canadian Stakes (G2). She then shipped back to Keeneland to win the First Lady (G1). Dave Block said "It was Woodbine that told us to run her one more year, at 6. We knew she loved going 1 1/16 and 1 1/8 miles on the turf around one turn. Chris, you've done a wonderful job with this filly, and if not for you I'd probably be retired back in Illinois, sitting at home watching television." Chris Block added, "We never dreamed she'd be able to do this. She just got better and better as the year went on. She just loves this racecourse, and really like it here. My dad found her and bought her and put his faith in me to train her. She isn't the easiest horse to train but we have a great team." This was one of the closest Horse of the Year votes ever, with Never Retreat edging out Inglorious by just 2 votes.

Nick Eaves, President and CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, presents the Special Sovereign Award to Sue Leslie
Immediately before the Horse of the Year winner was announced, Woodbine CEO Nick Eaves took to the stage and revealed that the Special Sovereign Award, which has only been given 10 times so far (equine and human), will have its 11th recipient. Sue Leslie, president of the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association, was recognized for her political lobbying efforts over the past 2 months, since the Ontario provincial government first announced they were considering ending the Slots at Racetracks program, and then later announced in the budget that they were following through, beginning with the closure of the slots rooms at Fort Erie, Windsor, and Sarnia. Eaves said, "In her 30-plus years in this industry she has worked tirelessly and achieved considerable success as an owner and trainer, and has volunteered thousands of hours... and does these things due to a deep passion for the industry and a willingness to put the industry's needs ahead of herself." Leslie said, "I had no idea this was coming, I actually had no plans to be here tonight but Mr. Lawson and Mr. Eaves convinced me... Our industry has had a lot of challenges to come together but we have, and we won't stop fighting. This award is also for everybody else who has worked as tirelessly as I have. In the end we will survive and probably come out stronger than before."

Luis Contreras (right) accepts the Outstanding Jockey award from retired jockey Sandy Hawley.
Jockey Luis Contreras had an impressive 2011 season with 220 wins in 1116 starts with $12.275 million in purse earnings, a campaign which earned him his first Sovereign Award as outstanding jockey. He is also the first jockey to sweep the Canadian Triple Crown with 2 different horses. Contreras thanked the people of Canada for giving him a chance, the trainers for allowing him to ride these great horses, and the owners who pay for their upkeep. Ryan Pacheco was the Outstanding Apprentice Jockey, and talked about being in the 3rd floor grandstand at Woodbine as a young racing fan when somebody suggested he try his hand at riding. Years later, having learned his craft at the North American Racing Academy under Chris McCarron, he's back in the 3rd floor grandstand taking home a Sovereign Award.

David Willmot, Chairman of Woodbine Entertainment, presents the Outstanding Owner award to both Glen Todd (left) and Vern and Donna Dubinsky. This was the first time there was a tie for the award.
There were few surprises in most of the vote totals with the exception of Horse of the Year. Inglorious was champion 3-year-old filly off her Oaks-Plate double, while Prince of Wales and Breeders' Stakes winner Pender Harbour took home 3-year-old male honours. In the juvenile categories, Glorious Song Stakes winner Tu Endie Wei was the champion filly while Coronation Futurity and Display Stakes winner Maritimer, now racing overseas for new connections, was the champion male. Musketier, who will race this year at age 10, was named Champion Turf Male off his win in the Singspiel (G3) and two Grade 2 wins in the U.S., the Elkhorn at Keeneland and the W.L. McKnight at Calder.

History was made at the Sovereign Awards with the very first dead heat for win in the owner category. Vern and Donna Dubinsky (Donver Stable), owners of Inglorious, tied with Glen Todd and Patrick Kinsella, who race primarily at Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver including Sovereign finalist Classic Alley Kat. Glen Todd said, "I would like to thank the Jockey Club for voting for us, our grooms and gallop people, our many trainers. Pat and I had a great season and it's an honour to be here." Vern Dubinsky said, "Well that was a shock, this is over the top. It all goes back to (trainer) Josie (Carroll) and her whole crew. My family all showed up here, I think we have 20 of us tonight. Thanks for voting for us." Rahy's Hope, dam of Rahy's Attorney, was named Outstanding Broodmare, which is a lifetime achievement award.

Glenn Sikura presents the the Outstanding Breeder award to Sherry McLean (centre) and Moira Gunn of Gardiner Farms
The most emotional moment of the night came when Gardiner Farms was announced as the Outstanding Breeder, the first time they were so honoured, and the announcement was met by a standing ovation from the audience of 300. Dr. Michael Colterjohn, who managed the farm for over 20 years, passed away from brain cancer one week before the ceremonies. His wife, Moira Gunn said, "I know how proud Michael would be to receive this today, and on behalf of myself and Sherry (McLean) and all our staff at Gardiner Farm we are really honoured accept this on his behalf. Success comes from passion and a passion that Michael had and shared with us. When Michael got diagnosed with cancer of the brain his family had some advice, to cut back on work, go fishing, play some golf. Michael looked them straight in the eye and said, 'why would I quit doing what's on my bucket list, breeding and racing horses, living my passion, to go do something that's fun but not what I want to do. Thank you to the Jockey Club, and thank you Michael."

Ryan Pacheco (right) accepts his Outstanding Apprentice Jockey award from Robert King of the Jockeys' Benefit Association of Canada.

The media awards were all won by past winners. Dave Landry took home Outstanding Photograph honours for his photo of Inglorious winning the Queen's Plate, Beverley Smith wrote the Outstanding Newspaper Story about Rahy's Attorney, Jennifer Morrison's story about Arosa Farm was the Oustanding Feature Store, and Tommy Wolski's Sport of Kings was the Outstanding Film/Video/Broadcast. Wolski was not in attendance but his acceptance speech referred to the possible, permanent closure of Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver, where his show is based.

Here are the vote totals for the top three finalists for all the awards along with photos for several of the equine winners. Votes were cast for the top three choices, 4 points for first, 2 for second, and 1 for third, in each category by voters and the top point getters were named the finalists. The voters are individuals serving in industry positions such as senior racing officials, racing journalists and commentators, as well as provincial representatives of the Breeding and Horsemen's organizations. The judging for the 2011 media categories was performed by the Journalism Professors at Humber College, School of Media Studies & Information Technology, in Toronto, Ontario.

Never Retreat was Champion Turf Female and Horse of the Year

Pender Harbour was Champion 3-Year-Old Male

Inglorious was Champion 3-Year-Old Filly

Musketier was Champion Turf Male

Atlantic Hurricane was Champion Female Sprinter

Tu Endie Wei was Champion 2-Year-Old Filly


The permanent Sovereign Award trophy is a sculpture of Saint Simon

Jockey Luis Contreras with his wife and children before the award ceremony

Fifty Proof was Champion Older Male

Embur's Song was Champion Older Female

Horse of the Year: Never Retreat    78 Inglorious       76 Pender Harbour   49 Champion Two Year Old Filly: Tu Endie Wei     98 Hard Not To Like 57 Northern Passion 55 Champion Two Year Old Male: Maritimer        118 Excaper          73 Prospective      21 Champion Three Year Old Filly: Inglorious       138 Marketing Mix    68 Smart Sting      20 Champion Three Year Old Male: Pender Harbour     148 Moonshine Mullin   49 Freedoms Traveller  29 Champion Older Female: Embur’s Song     132 Stars to Shine   48 Ariana D         39 Champion Older Male: Fifty Proof  58 Don Cavallo  54 James Street 48 Champion Turf Female: Never Retreat     142 Miss Keller (Ire) 51 Marketing Mix     42 Champion Turf Male: Musketier (Ger)  101 Stormy Lord      70 Pender Harbour    34 Champion Female Sprinter: Atlantic Hurricane 131 Embur’s Song        52 Classic Alley Kat  25 Champion Male Sprinter: Essence Hit Man  115 Gypsy Ring       50 Signature Red     28 Outstanding Broodmare: Noble Strike      107 Embur Sunshine   44 Rahy’s Hope      32 Outstanding Breeder: Gardiner Farms Limited 94 Adena Springs          86 Arosa Farms            29 Outstanding Owner: Donver Stable          60 Glen Todd & P Kinsella 60 Melnyk Racing Stable   58 Bear Stables Ltd.      33 Outstanding Trainer: Mark Casse       114 Roger Attfield   85 Reade Baker      15 Outstanding Apprentice Jockey: Ryan Pacheco      103 Scott Williams    75 Betty-Jo Williams 49 Outstanding Jockey: Luis Contreras    144 Patrick Husbands  70 Emma-Jayne Wilson 24
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