DEL MAR, Cal. — Great news circulated on two fronts through the 2017 National Turf Writers Association. Annual Awards dinner on Nov. 2.
Horse owner Rick Porter received the “Mr. Fitz Award typifying the spirit of racing."
Porter himself received good news when his physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital reported the aggressive cancer he had been battling was “in complete remission.”
The retired South Jersey automobile dealer who is a native of Wilmington and now a resident of Hobe Sound, Fla. received the award from those journalists who regularly cover Thoroughbred racing for North America's newspapers, broadcaster outlets and specialty publications.
It is named for the late Hall of Fame trainer James (Sunny Jim) Fitzsimmons who was most closely associated with the Woodward and Phipps racing families during the 20th century.
Porter's name first appeared in horse racing headlines in 2000 when Jostle, a 3-year-old filly trained by John Servis, won the Black Eyed Susan on the day before the Preakness and then repeated in Belmont's Coaching Club American Oaks and Saratoga's Alabama.
Round Pond, a Michael Matz trainee, brought Porter his first Breeders' Cup statuette in the 2006 Distaff.
One of Porter's favorite Horses, Eight Belles, brought him to the heartbreak of horse racing when she was euthanized after breaking both front ankles while being pulled up after running second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.
After banishing thoughts of quitting the sport after Eight Belles death, Porter re-grouped and returned to the winners' circle with the sprinter Kodiak Cowboy in 2009.Two years later, he stepped to the podium to receive Harve de Grace's Eclipse Award as horse of the year.
All was not trophies celebrations last year when the two-time Eclipse Award winner Songbird went nose-to-nose down the Santa Anita stretch with Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.
With Hall of Famers Gary Stevens on Beholder and Mike Smith on Songbird asking thir mounts for everything battling every inch of the way, the photo finish camera showed Beholder the winner by a literal nostril over Songbird.
The joy that Porter receives from horse racing is best expressed by author Tom Pedula who quotes Porter: “Did you ever see a better stretch run than that? I don't think you can get one any better than that. I still keep watching the race because it's so much fun to watch.”
Defeats on the race track did not sap Porter's spirit. And, neither did a battle with cancer — a cudgel he was forced to take up in April last year.
After only limited success with chemotherapy, Porter entered a clinical trial at Mass General in June and immediately benefited from the treatment.
Porter and his wife of 55 years did not make the arduous journey to the West Coast to receive the award. He deputized his long-time executive assistant Victoria Keith.
She brought news that elated the the dinner attendees — and those of the world-wide Thoroughbred community — another examination earlier in the week again revealed “complete remission.”
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