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'A Special Lady' Earns John Hervey Award

Published: January 17, 2011 1:04 pm ET

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Horse Racing Alberta and Whiteiron Productions’ feature regarding pacer A Special Lady and the relationship of Gordon and Illa Rumpel was selected the winner of the 27th edition of the John Hervey Award for excellence in harness racing broadcasting, the U.S. Harness Writers Association announced today.

Honourable mention was awarded to NBC’s Hambletonian feature on trainer Chuck Sylvester, who lost his son, Troy, a year earlier and was looking to win his fifth Hambletonian with Lucky Chucky.

The contest was sponsored by harness racing executive Jeff Gural.

'A Special Lady' told the story of why Gordon Rumpel named the pacer after his wife, Illa, who is battling a life-threatening disease. Gordon and Illa met when they were 12 years old and married in 1951. The feature aired on Horse Racing Alberta’s website as well as the Northlands Park Horses Off Track simulcast network and Alberta Public Shaw TV.

Jeff Robillard of Horse Racing Alberta and Mike Little of Whiteiron Productions were executive producers. They also won this category in 2008 and 2009.

“Told entirely by Gordon Rumpel and trainer Jeff McLeod, the feature tells the story of Rumpel’s two lifelong loves, his wife and harness racing, and how A Special Lady symbolically represents both,” judge Kathleen Donovan said. “Named for his wife, A Special Lady gives him joy in the present, and a look to the future, while he is reminded of how much pleasure he has had from both racing and his wife in his long life.

“This feature had soul that came through, as though the producer’s heart was in the story, rather than it being just another piece, while also a technically superior feature. The use of images at an appropriate pace was a sign of good camerawork, well-chosen music set the right mood and dictated the tempo, and the producer demonstrated a clear concept of where he or she wanted to take the viewers.

“The story was so well-edited and the subject so well-interviewed that it needed no narrator. The camera and editor superbly put the images to the words of Rumpel and McLeod, giving the story the right pace and reaching the viewer without being overly sentimental.”

The Sylvester feature aired on Hambletonian Day, August 7, 2010 on NBC. Elyse McDonough was the producer and Rob Hyland the executive producer.

“Multiple Hambletonian-winner Chuck Sylvester was going for his fifth Hambletonian win, putting him in company only three other trainers could claim, while fighting the mixed emotions the day brought him,” Donovan said. “The writing, voiceover, editing, and camera work was well-executed, with a professionalism that set it apart.

“The editing was smooth where it needed to flow, and fast while remaining clear and not choppy when the pace needed to pick up. The music used was perfect in that it was not intrusive but set the proper tone and pacing throughout. The writer knew the subject well and was able to get the story across in a concise manner, while not talking down to horse people, nor pandering to the lay person. The overall piece was done well, while revealing the heart of a man.”

Donovan covers racing in the U.S. and abroad through writing, television, and video, and markets farms, stallions, and events while regularly working sales to make sure she can still put her hands on the horse, the centre of it all. As a freelancer, she has written for most major racing publications around the world, and contributed in various capacities to live shows and documentaries on several American television networks, as well as for Sky, and RTE (Irish television). She is based in Lexington, Kentucky.

Robillard and Little will be honoured at USHWA’s annual awards dinner, to be held February 27 at the Marriott in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.


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