MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- The category of top male sprinter was one of the few that had any real drama surrounding it at Monday night's Eclipse Award dinner at Miami's Fountainebleau Hotel. But the announcement that Benny the Bull beat out Midnight Lute and Street Boss for the honor came as less of a surprise than what followed during owner Michael Iavarone's acceptance speech: the news that Benny the Bull was coming out of retirement and would race again later this year.
International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Stable originally announced that Benny the Bull had been retired and would stand at stud in 2009 after the son of Lucky Lionel suffered a chip in his right front ankle while training up to the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga in late August. But Iavarone, the principal partner for IEAH, said plans to possibly bring Benny the Bull back to the races again were hatched several weeks prior to Monday's awards dinner.
"After examining Benny the Bull, Dr. [Larry] Bramlage said he felt his injury had healed sufficiently and that he could come back at 100 percent again," said Iavarone. "We actually made the final decision to bring him back about two weeks ago and decided to wait to announce it until tonight at the awards ceremony. But under one condition: that he won the Eclipse. If he won, we wanted to bring him back to defend the title. If he had not won, he would have stayed retired. Fortunately, Benny got the recognition he deserved by being named the champion."
Benny the Bull was undefeated in four starts in 2008. He equaled the track record winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park to kick off his championship campaign, traveled halfway around the world to capture the Dubai Golden Shaheen, then returned home to register victories in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont Park and Smile Sprint at Calder. All four of his victories were at six furlongs.
Benny the Bull earned in excess of $1.75 million in 2008 for a partnership that included Andrew Cohen and Greg James along with IEAH.
Iavarone said Benny the Bull is on the farm in Ocala but will likely rejoin trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.'s stable in April with the hopes of returning to the races in July.
"We're targeting a late-summer campaign, with our main goals the Breeders' Cup Sprint and hopefully to get him back to Dubai again for the Golden Shaheen the following spring," said Iavarone.
Monday was a whirlwind night for Iavarone and IEAH, who also won an Eclipse with Big Brown for top 3-year-old male but lost the Eclipse for champion owner to Frank Stronach by a single vote, 47-46.
"I was wondering if we could ask for a stewards' inquiry or lodge an objection into the vote," joked Iavarone when learning of the narrow margin following the conclusion of Monday's Eclipse ceremonies.
"Actually, I'm not disappointed in the least," said Iavarone. "Naturally it would have been nice to win three awards, but we wound up with two champions in our stable, and as far as I'm concerned, it's the horses that come first and we're second."