Will Take Charge ended the year with a win in the Clark Handicap.

Will Take Charge ended the year with a win in the Clark Handicap.

Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs

Horse of Year Candidates Took Varied Paths

Three runners had remarkably different campaigns; vote now for your choice.

Three runners who delivered remarkably different campaigns in 2013 face off for Horse of the Year honors, highlighting the open-for-interpretation nature of the category.

Winners in the 17 horse and human categories will be announced at the 43rd annual Eclipse Awards dinner and ceremony Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park Racing and Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla. The ceremony will air live on HRTV.

Turf star Wise Dan, who was voted Horse of the Year, top Older Male, and outstanding Turf Male last season, is once again a finalist in all three divisions. He came through with four grade I victories including a record-setting 1:31.75 repeat in the Ricoh Woodbine Mile (gr. IT) and a defense of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT).

In seven starts for trainer Charlie LoPresti, Morton Fink’s 6-year-old Wiseman's Ferry gelding galloped to victory in six races at five different tracks; neither rain nor traffic trouble nor highweight assignments kept him from the goal over his beloved lawn. His only loss of the season was a second-place finish to frontrunning Silver Max in an off-the-turf edition of the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. I), a race over a Polytrack surface LoPresti likened to “running in the Florida Everglades” after a deluge at Keeneland.

Wise Dan, who was bred in Kentucky by Fink out of the Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, won the Maker’s 46 Mile Stakes (gr. IT) in Lexington, took the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (gr. IT) and Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs, and repeated in the Fourstardave Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course en route to his impressive Woodbine Mile score. His second in the Shadwell set him up well for the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita Park, which he won by three-quarters of a length over Za Approval with a four-wide move from far back, inching away at the wire.
Season record: 7 starts, 6-1-0, $2,751,972.

Reeves Thoroughbred Racing’s Mucho Macho Man  also found season-finale success with a stirring victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), winning by a nose over the late-closing Will Take Charge . After battling a virus and taking a five-month hiatus at Fair Hill Training Center following his DNF in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic in January at Gulfstream Park, the 6-year-old Macho Uno  runner came through in the second half of the year for trainer Kathy Ritvo, taking the Awesome Again (gr. I) at Santa Anita en route to his score going the Classic’s 1 1/4 miles on dirt.

His early season was less stellar, coming back off the layup with a third in the Criminal Type Stakes at Belmont Park and the same result in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. Mucho Macho Man was bred in Florida by John and Carole Rio out of the Ponche mare Ponche de Leona.
Season record: 5 starts, 2-0-2, $2,984,000.

Will Take Charge was the hard-knocking runner of the group, a son of Unbridled's Song out of multiple grade I winner Take Charge Lady who won early in the year and came unscathed and winless through the Triple Crown trail to develop into the nation’s top 3-year-old. He won the Smarty Jones Stakes for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Willis Horton in his first start of the season at Oaklawn Park, then came back from a sixth on a sloppy track in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) to beat stablemate and eventual Preakness (gr. I) winner Oxbow  in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II). After a troubled eighth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), a seventh in the Preakness, and a 10th in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), he began his summer season at Saratoga with a runner-up finish to Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Palace Malice  in the Jim Dandy (gr. II).

As the stars of the earlier 3-year-old races began to fade away, this blaze-faced chestnut was just getting started. He won the Travers (gr. I) and the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II), and missed taking the Classic by the narrowest margin with his trademark late run. Then it was back to Churchill Downs, where he won the Clark Handicap (gr. I) in style, defeating top older male Game On Dude in the process.
Season record: 11 starts, 5-2-0, $2,960,977.