The Kentucky Thoroughbred racing circuit absorbed its share of blows in 2012, as race days were cut and stakes programs were hacked, leaving many to wonder about the future of the sport.
For all the ills that have plagued the state's signature industry, Saturday's Eclipse Awards ceremony figures to serve as a de facto tribute to the quality of horses it still produces and the aptitude of the horsemen who guide them.
When the winners in 17 horse and human categories are announced at the 42nd annual Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park, Kentucky-based connections could be making several trips to the podium as they represent some of the heaviest favorites to claim horse racing's year-end honors.
The fact Kentucky-breds represent 23 of the 30 equine finalists isn't much of a shock given the longstanding strength of the Bluegrass breeding industry. That so many potential champions blossomed from those rooted primarily in the state, however, is the real rallying cry given the level of competition from other jurisdictions.
Morton Fink's homebred gelding Wise Dan, who is conditioned by Keeneland-based trainer Charlie Lopresti, is favored to sweep honors for champion turf male, champion older male and Horse of the Year — though he will have to fight off the Ian Wilkes-trained Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned in each of the latter two categories.
The Frankfort-based father-son duo of Fred and Buff Bradley have made their livelihoods off Kentucky racing and stand to be honored with their first champion as their homebred filly Groupie Doll could be a unanimous pick for champion female sprinter.
Few embody the local racing circuit like Louisville native Dale Romans, who has a strong chance to land his first Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer after a year that saw him condition Eclipse Award finalists Little Mike (champion turf male, champion older male), Shackleford (champion male sprinter), and Tapitsfly (champion turf female) among others.
"It does show that Kentucky still is very much a leader of great Thoroughbreds," said Buff Bradley, who trains Groupie Doll as well as being her co-owner and co-breeder. "I think it's great that everyone who did well in the Breeders' Cup had some connections to Kentucky. We represented well this year."
Eclipse Award finalists
Two-Year-Old Male: Shanghai Bobby, Uncaptured, Violence
Two-Year-Old Filly: Beholder, Dreaming of Julia, Executiveprivilege
Three-Year-Old Male: Bodemeister, I'll Have Another, Union Rags
Three-Year-Old Filly: Believe You Can, My Miss Aurelia, Questing
Older Male: Fort Larned, Little Mike, Wise Dan
Older Female: Groupie Doll, Include Me Out, Royal Delta
Male Sprinter: The Lumber Guy, Shackleford, Trinniberg
Female Sprinter: Contested, Groupie Doll, Mizdirection
Male Turf Horse: Little Mike, Point of Entry, Wise Dan
Female Turf Horse: Marketing Mix, Tapitsfly, Zagora
Steeplechase Horse: Demonstrative, Divine Fortune, Pierrot Lunaire
Horse of the Year: Fort Larned, I'll Have Another, Wise Dan
Owner: Godolphin Racing LLC, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc., Reddam Racing LLC
Breeder: Adena Springs, Darley, Brereton C. Jones
Trainer: Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Dale Romans
Jockey: Javier Castellano, Ramon Dominguez, John Velazquez
Apprentice Jockey: Jose Montano, Irad Ortiz Jr., Angel Suarez
Eclipse Awards Ceremony
When: 8-10:30 p.m.
Where: Gulfstream Park
TV: HRTV, Racetrack Television Network, DRF.com
Twitter: Follow along as Alicia Wincze Hughes tweets the winners live @horseracinghl during Saturday's broadcast
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.