Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Now that the 2013 Eclipse Awards have been handed out, full attention can be spent on the 2014 thoroughbred racing season.
The most pleasant aspect of the new year is the continued presence of the three finalists for last year's Horse of the Year. Two-time HOY Wise Dan and Game on Dude are both geldings, but the continued racing of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man is of great pleasure to racing fans. The 6- year-old began the year last Saturday at Gulfstream Park with a decisive victory in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic, a race in which he failed to finish in 2013.
"I think he was more laid back and confident yesterday," trainer Kathy Ritvo said the day after the Sunshine Millions. "Before they put him in the gate, he took a couple prances up to the gate and then just walked in."
Also returning to race as a 4-year-old is last year's champion 3-year-old colt Will Take Charge. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and owned by Willis Horton, Will Take Charge is at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas getting ready for his debut effort in 2014.
Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, owned by Dogwood Stable, is also back for his 4-year-old campaign, stabled at Palm Meadows Training Center near Gulfstream Park.
"The Dogwood team did a terrific job with him," trainer Todd Pletcher said, commenting on Palace Malice. "He looks to be in great form. He's done really well over the break. He's already a very impressive looking horse, but he's filled out nicely. It looks like he's making into a terrific-looking 4-year- old."
We're so accustomed to having leading 3-year-olds retired from racing that it's a great joy to have these two colts back in training for their 4-year-old seasons.
Champion filly Beholder will again race in 2014 with a chance to win a third straight championship. Last week, she added the Eclipse Award as champion 3- year-old filly to her honor from the previous season as champion 2-year-old female. Should she claim the Eclipse Award as 2014 older female, she will follow in the hoofprints of the last three older female champions, two-time winner Royal Delta, Havre de Grace and three-time champion mare Zenyatta.
Princess of Sylmar returns as well after posting victories last year in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, Alabama and Beldame Stakes.
The continuing competition on the track among older thoroughbreds can only be a good thing for the sport. The longer a person remains involved in racing, the more obvious is the fact the Triple Crown is just one part of the fun. The second half of any year is dominated by the older runners, and the more of them that race, the better it is for everyone.