Ask Willis Horton how it feels to be back at the Eclipse Awards for a second consecutive year, and the answer is a genuine blend of satisfaction and humility.
"It's a great honor and I'll tell you what, I'm proud of it," the Arkansas owner said. "I guess you'd have to say I just got lucky."
Lucky or brilliant, 74-year-old Horton knows what works. After taking home an Eclipse at the end of 2013 for champion 3-year-old male Will Take Charge , who is out of the multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady, in 2014 Horton campaigned the champion juvenile filly Take Charge Brandi—a Giant's Causeway runner out of Charming, a daughter of Take Charge Lady.
Horton purchased Take Charge Brandi at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale from the Paramount Sales consignment for $435,000.
"We knew she had all kinds of talent and the breeding and the whole works, but it took us a little bit to figure her out," Horton said.
After breaking her maiden in her first start, Take Charge Brandi missed the winner's circle in four stakes in a row before winning the 14 Hands Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at odds of 61-1 at Santa Anita Park. It was her first score for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas since her maiden June 22 at Churchill Downs, but became the launching pad for her championship as she hit the road to string together victories in the Nov. 22 Delta Downs Princess Stakes (gr. III) at Delta Downs and the Dec. 13 Starlet Stakes (gr. I) at Los Alamitos.
"In the Breeders' Cup we put a different jockey on her (Victor Espinoza), and he was leading all the way," Horton recalled. "When they came to the head of the stretch he hit her one time with the stick and she threw her ears up and was going to quit—and he saw that quick and went back to hand-riding.
"If you use a stick on her, she'll just stop trying. I guess she feels like 'I'm doing all I can do; if you're going to whip me, I'll just quit.' You've got to hand ride her and let her do her thing. She's plenty fast enough to carry herself and go on. If anything shows up and tries to pass her, she just hits another gear."
Voting (Only first-place votes from members of the consolidated voting entities: National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters):