HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Wise Dan’s final act of 2013 was a big rally to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Voters took notice – again. For the second straight year, the Eclipse Awards were the Wise Dan show, with Horse of the Year honors and two other awards going to the consistent performer as thoroughbred racing feted the best of 2013.
Wise Dan became the sixth horse to win top honors in consecutive years, joining Secretariat, Forego, Affirmed, Cigar and Curlin. “A horse like this,” owner Morton Fink said, “is a miracle.” Other top honors presented Saturday went to trainer Todd Pletcher, jockey Javier Castellano and longtime trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who received the Eclipse Award of Merit to commemorate his career accomplishments.
Wise Dan won six of his seven starts in 2013, all against either Grade 1 or Grade 2 company and being sent off at less than even-money odds every time. He capped his year with a sweeping, wide move to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile and push his earnings for 2013 to just over $2.75 million.
It was also the second straight year when Wise Dan took home Eclipse honors in the Older Male and Male Turf Horse divisions. The now 7-year-old beat out Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge for the horse-of-the-year award. “And we hope that we’re back next year,” said Charles LoPresti, Wise Dan’s trainer. With the stars of the sport – the human ones, anyway – in tuxedos and gowns at Gulfstream Park for an evening filled with laughs and applause, there were few surprise winners.
Wise Dan was widely expected to win. And when it comes to the top trainer, Pletcher is a strong candidate pretty much every year. Pletcher grabbed the trainer’s Eclipse Award for the sixth time – a record, and all of them have come in the last 10 years. He was an overwhelming winner, picking up 183 of the 248 votes cast after a year when his horses won just over $25.2 million, more than $10 million better than any other trainer’s earnings and the eighth time he led the yearlong money standings. Pletcher’s horses won 73 stakes races, 48 graded stakes and 13 Grade 1 races, all more than anyone else in racing last year.
“It takes really special horses to accomplish something like this and we’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities,” said Pletcher, who became a bit emotional in his remarks when talking about Caixa Eletronica, a 9-year-old from his stable who died earlier this month after being crashed into by another horse in a training accident at Belmont Park. Caixa Eletronica won seven stakes races, including the 2012 Charles Town Classic, and more than $1.8 million in earnings.
“He shows you can take a horse from modest breeding and compete at the very highest level,” said Pletcher, who also won the Eclipse in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2010. “We certainly miss him. He’s an all-time favorite.” Pletcher also introduced Lukas, his mentor, before the trainer accepted the Merit Award. “When it comes to Wayne Lukas, there is no comparison,” Pletcher said. “He’s unequivocally the greatest of all time.”
Castellano won his first Eclipse Award after leading all jockeys last year with 362 wins and $26.2 million in purse earnings, a single-season money record. Castellano also won jockey titles at Gulfstream, Belmont and Saratoga and wound up getting 134 of the 248 votes cast, outdistancing Gary Stevens (65) and Joel Rosario (21). “Quite an honor,” Castellano said. Shared Belief won 2-year-old male honors after winning all three of his starts as a juvenile, which explains why he’s one of the early favorites for this year’s Kentucky Derby. His ownership group includes longtime sports-talk radio personality Jim Rome.