In a year when the 3-year-old male leaderboard kept changing by the month, it should come as no surprise that a horse like Will Take Charge, who excelled from August to November, be the frontrunner for the Eclipse Award.
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.
Will Take Charge's campaign, in fact, was a microcosm of the entire year, as he kept morphing into different horses, first as the inconsistent colt who won the Smarty Jones Stakes in January and the Rebel Stakes in April, but was a bust in the Southwest Stakes, then as the unlucky colt who got stopped while making a big move in the Kentucky Derby, then again into the dismal performer we saw in the Grade 1 Preakness and Belmont Stakes, and finally into the consistent, powerful stretch runner who captured the Travers Stakes, Pennsylvania Derby, and Clark Handicap and was beaten a nose in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Those huge performances, especially the Classic and Clark against top-class older horses, catapulted him to the head of the 3-year-old division, outdoing the successful spring campaign turned in by Orb with victories in the Kentucky Derby, Florida Derby and Fountain of Youth Stakes, and the run of big efforts by Palace Malice, winner of the Belmont and Jim Dandy Stakes.
Orb also ran third in the Belmont and Travers, while Palace Malice was an unlucky fourth in the Travers and a well-beaten second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Right behind the three finalists came Will Take Charge's stablemate Oxbow , who surged to the top of the division on many polls during the Triple Crown with a victory in the Preakness and a second in the Belmont before being retired with an injury.
While some kind of case can be made for Orb, Palace Malice, and Oxbow, it was Will Take Charge's ability to indeed take charge in the last half of the year that makes him the most likely winner of the 3-year-old championship.
What made this division so compelling this year were the trainers involved. Will Take Charge, as well as Oxbow, is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas; Orb is trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey; and Palace Malice is trained by future Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.
The owners of those horses also read like a Who's Who -- Ogden Mills Phipps, Stuart Janney III, Dogwood Stable, and Calumet Farm. But in the end it is the lesser known Willis Horton who likely will be accepting the Eclipse Award.