- Published: Wednesday, 12 February 2020 20:23
Members of the Maryland backstretch community, along with owners, trainers and jockeys, were recognized for excellence in 2019 at the third Renaissance Award dinner held Feb. 11 at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery near Baltimore.
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 Backstretch Worker of the Year awards, one for Pimlico Race Course and one for Laurel Park. The owner, trainer and jockey nominees are selected by the MTHA Board of Directors, with an emphasis on participation in Maryland racing, and are voted upon by an independent panel of Maryland racing media and officials, as are the individual Maryland-bred equine divisional categories administered by the MHBA.
Urizar "Uri" Velazquez, who works for trainer Brandon McFarlane, is the Backstretch Employee of the Year for Pimlico. The 27-year-old native of Mexico is known for his passion for horses and those who work with them, and for assisting his colleagues in times of need. He is enrolled at Howard Community College where he takes courses in English, grammar and history.
"I thank God for being here tonight," Velazquez said. "I thank every single one of you guys who made this happen. I really appreciate it."
Troy Singh, the Backstretch Employee of the Year for Laurel, is the primary assistant for Claudio Gonzalez, leading trainer by wins in Maryland. A 38-year-old native of Guyana, Singh started in the business as an owner and decided he wanted to work hands-on with the horses in the stable area.
Singh oversees the grooms who work for Gonzalez's 60-horse operation at Laurel and steps in when some grooms aren't available.
"It's a lot of hard work but it's very fulfilling when you win a race," he said. "Working with Claudio, I learn a lot."
Mike Trombetta, who is based at Laurel and the Fair Hill Training Center, was voted Maryland Trainer of the Year. His trainees won 62 races in Maryland in 2019 and another 40 races around the United States and in Canada.
Trombetta's Maryland stakes winners were Oldies But Goodies, English Minister, My Sistersledge, Newstome and Bella Aurora.
Wet Your Whistle, a Laurel allowance race winner, went on to win the Highlander Stakes, a Canadian Grade I event at Woodbine. Trombetta trains the top 3-year-old Independence Hall, winner of the Grade III Nashua Stakes last fall and the Jerome Stakes in January at Aqueduct Racetrack.
"We couldn't do all this without owners who trust our ability and staff members who work so hard to make our horses the best they can be," he said.
Ellen Charles' Hillwood Stable was voted Maryland Owner of the Year. The operation accounted for 75 starts, 92% of them in Maryland, and $765,528 in earnings.
Two Hillwood runners were voted 2019 Maryland-bred champions. Cordmaker, trained by Rodney Jenkins, was named champion older horse, while Majestic Reason, trained by Graham Motion and co-owned by Richard Golden, was selected champion older female. Cordmaker, a winner of three stakes last year, fell less than a length short of winning the Grade III Pimlico Special.
"I'd like to thank the trainers and the entire staff who made all of this possible last year," said Eveline Kjelstrup, the assistant to Jenkins who accepted the award on behalf of Hillwood Stable.
The Maryland Jockey of the Year is Trevor McCarthy, who won 170 races at Maryland tracks last year and 253 overall. He spent many of Maryland's dark days riding at Delaware Park, where he finished third in the standings with 46 victories.
McCarthy won 14 stakes in Maryland with 14 different horses including the Grade III General George at Laurel with Uncontested.
"I'd like to congratulate all the finalists and give a huge shout-out to all the jockeys here who are great competitors," McCarthy said. "I'd like to thank my agent, Scott Silver, and all the owners, trainers and backstretch workers. I'm very privileged."
The MTHA congratulates the other Renaissance Awards finalists: Gonzalez and Dale Capuano for trainer, Smart Angle and No Guts No Glory Farm for owner, and Sheldon Russell and Jorge Vargas Jr. for jockey.
Proceeds from ticket sales for the Renaissance Awards program, which began in 2018, go to support the work of Beyond The Wire, the Maryland Horse Industry Foundation and the Maryland Racing Media Association.
The MHBA will send releases on the Horse of the Year and divisional winners, as well as breeder-related awards.