Photo: Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club
Winners of the 2013 Eclipse Award will not be announced until Saturday evening, but we already know that D. Wayne Lukas will be walking out with a trophy. The Hall of Fame trainer will be presented the Eclipse Award of Merit. Certainly it is a fitting honor for the 78-year-old trainer, but I have to wonder if he should not also be in the main race as well. Not surprisingly, as the top two trainers by earnings, Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert are Eclipse Award finalists. The earnings list has more often than not been the deciding factor for honoring America’s top trainer.
In ten consecutive years, between 2001-2010, the trainer that won the most money on the track was awarded the Eclipse for Outstanding trainer. Finally, in 2011, Bill Mott broke that streak, winning the award while only managing to finish fourth on the earnings list. In 2012, Dale Romans repeated the feat, by finishing fourth in earnings, and collecting the Eclipse Award. Mott and Romans likely both clinched their awards through big wins at the Breeders’ Cup.
For 2013, the third finalist for Outstanding Trainer is Bill Mott, who finished fifth in the earnings list. Taking nothing away from Mott, who had another outstanding year, but with no wins in either the Breeders’ Cup or the Triple Crown, it is hard to imagine him taking home the hardware this year. D. Wayne Lukas, on the other hand, may have been a more interesting candidate in 2013.
Working with a much smaller stable than Baffert, Mott, and especially Pletcher, Lukas was front and center for America’s biggest races this year. In only 283 starts, compared to Pletcher (946), Mott (612), and Baffert (570), Lukas was able to take a couple of colts, in Will Take Charge and Oxbow, to the pinnacle of the sport. Who could have guessed that at the beginning of the year?
In the spring, the game little Oxbow chased a way too fast pace in the Kentucky Derby, but came back to win the Preakness, and run second in the Belmont. The Preakness win put Lukas back into the spotlight for the first time in years, but it would be the ‘other’ colt, though, that would go on to accomplish even more.
Will Take Charge, winner of the Smarty Jones, Rebel, Travers, Pennsylvania Derby, and Clark Handicap will be named 3yo Male Champion in a few days, but perhaps that agonizingly close loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic cost him a whole lot more. Imagine, if you will, that he did get his nose down on the wire in America’s richest race. Horse of the Year could well be his, and for Lukas, I have to believe that, at the very least, he would be a finalist, if not in with a real chance to win his first Eclipse Award in 19 years.
Throw in top two-year-old, Strong Mandate, and the two-time graded stakes winner on turf, Optimizer, and you’d have to say that old D. Wayne had an awfully impressive year for a trainer thought to be past his prime, while working with a stable much smaller than the trainers who are Eclipse Award finalists.
In the end, the honor will likely go to Pletcher for a sixth time. After all, he did run away with the all important earnings title. Or should I say, the all too important earnings title. It would seem money isn’t everything, unless you are a human trying to win an Eclipse Award.