- Published: Wednesday, 13 February 2019 18:28
Maryland backstretch workers Luis Barajas and Gabriel Emmanuel were among the many individuals and equines recognized for 2018 during the second Renaissance Awards dinner in Baltimore the evening of Feb. 12.
The awards program is a joint effort among the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Maryland Jockey Club.
The MTHA each year accepts nominations for two grooms, one based at Laurel Park and the other at Pimlico Race Course, and makes a selection. Barajas, 28, works for Laurel-based trainer Brittany Trimble Russell, while Emmanuel, 63, is employed by Pimlico-based trainer Mary Eppler.
Both men said they were honored to have been chosen and grateful for being able to accept their awards. Emmanuel was joined by his wife, Adeline, and daughter, Laura Emmanuel, a physician with MedStar Health who was a recipient of two racing-related scholarships, one from the Maryland Racing Media Association and the other from Race For Education.
tThe Owner of the Year award went to Super C Racing, which is operated by Michael Coombs. Super C Racing won 48 races from 173 starts at all Maryland tracks in 2018 in only its second year of existence.
Coombs was away from the horse business for 25 years but began investing again in 2017. “It was always his dream to get back into it,” said Gwen Rynkiewicz, who works for Coombs and helps manage his business interests.
Claudio Gonzalez, who counts Super C Racing among his clients, repeated as Trainer of the Year. He accounted for 478 starts and 115 wins in Maryland last year for in-state earnings of $3.3 million.
“I’d like to say thank you to all of my team and all of the owners,” Gonzalez said. “And I especially want to mention my family—they are with me in the bad times and in the good times.”
Jorge A. Vargas Jr. opted to make Maryland his base in 2018 and came away with the Jockey of the Year title. Vargas won 110 races in the state last year with Maryland purse earnings of about $4 million.
“I have a lot of people to thank for this,” Vargas said, mentioning his father, girlfriend and his agent, Scott Silver.
Breeder of the Year, selected by the MHBA, is Richard Golden of Sycamore Hall Thoroughbreds in Chesapeake City. Golden was also instrumental in launching the nearby Northview Stallion Station, which stands 2018 Stallion of the Year Great Notion.
“I’m so proud to accept this in honor of my father,” said Golden’s son, Mike. “I’d like to thank the MHBA, MTHA and MJC for all they do to promote racing and breeding in the state. This award really belongs to the farm (and the people who work there).”
Horse of the Year for 2018 is KRA Stud Farm’s Knicks Go, who also was named champion 2-year-old colt or gelding. He won the grade I Breeders Futurity and finished second in the grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year.
The colt was foaled at GreenMount Farm in Glyndon and bred by Sabrina Moore, who expressed gratitude for the recognition.
“It’s not easy,” she said of breeding Thoroughbreds. “We breed on a small scale—we had two foals that year—and for him to compete at that level is a dream come true. It’s surreal. Thank you to the MHBA and MTHA for keeping this going in Maryland.”
Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Terp Racing’s Still Having Fun, who won a grade II stakes at Saratoga Race Course and was grade I-placed in California in 2018, was voted champion 3-year-old colt or gelding and champion sprinter. He was bred by Charles and Cynthia McGinnes, who own his dam, Casual Kiss, the Broodmare of the Year for 2018.
“I’d like to thank (Maryland-based) Terp Racing and all the partners for allowing me to buy horses for them,” said MTHA President Tim Keefe, who trains Still Having Fun. “Frankly, Adam (Wachtel) and Gary had to take me out of my comfort zone. I usually have about a 75-mile radius outside of Maryland. The horse has always run a good number even though he traveled about 10,000 miles last year. Nothing has phased him.”
Other champions for 2018 are as follows:
2-year-old filly: William Ferrone’s Brucia La Terra, trained by Barclay Tagg and bred by Sallyellen Hurst and Hugh Hurst.
3-year-old filly: Cleber Massey’s Blamed, trained by Joel Marr and Bill Mott and bred by Sagamore Farm.
Older male: Hillwood Equestrian Meadows’ Laki, trained by Damon Dilodovico and bred by Tom Michaels and Lorna Baker.
Older female and top Turf runner: I’m Betty G., owned by Three Diamonds Farm, trained by Mike Maker and bred by Carol Kaye and Boyce Stable.
Steeplechase: The Fields Stable’s Dawn Wall, trained by Elizabeth Voss and bred by Mary Voss.
The Renaissance Awards program was launched in 2018 in the spirit of cooperation that has led to growth in the Maryland Thoroughbred racing and breeding programs.