01/06/2011 5:00PM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Winchester

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Barbara D. Livingston

The promise was always there.

As a 3-year-old in 2008, Winchester won his American debut in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park. In an abbreviated 2009 campaign, he placed in graded stakes three times.

In 2010, Winchester put those elements together, with the best campaign of his career, one good enough to merit the role as a finalist as the outstanding turf male of 2010.

The cold statistics: 3 wins in 10 starts and career-best seasonal earnings of $892,080. Along the way, the highlights included two wins in Grade 1 turf stakes at Belmont Park – the Manhattan Handicap in June and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in October. Mix in second-place finishes in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February and the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park in September, and a third in the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park in July and Winchester proved to a be a consistent runner throughout the year.

Winchester’s 2010 campaign was full of promise last winter for owners Bertram and Diane Firestone and trainer Christophe Clement, and reached fruition when in June with a 21-1 upset against stablemate Gio Ponti in the Manhattan Handicap over 1 1/4 miles.

Winchester rallied from ninth in a field of 11 with a six-wide move to hold off Gio Ponti, who closed well himself. After the race, Clement described Winchester’s performance as “superb.” A few days later, Clement upgraded his thought, saying that Winchester “might have run the best race of his life.”

The trainer also said that Winchester and Gio Ponti would not race against each other for the rest of 2010, and they did not.

Winchester spent the summer in New Jersey and New York, placing in the United Nations and Bowling Green, losing the latter by a neck after chasing a slow pace. Winchester rebounded in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, catching the hotshot 3-year-old Paddy O’Prado in the final furlong to win by a length. The turf was yielding, the sort of ground that Clement once thought would favor Winchester. In fact, the 2010 campaign proved Winchester can run on any surface; he won on firm turf at Belmont Park in June.

The win in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic led the Firestones and Clement to start Winchester in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6. Sent off at 9-2 in a field of seven, Winchester was last to the final turn and closed well despite a slow pace to finish fourth, 3 3/4 lengths behind the winner, the European import Dangerous Midge.

Winchester made one more start in 2010, finishing 11th in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase on Dec. 12, his first trip outside of the United States since June of 2008, when he was based in Ireland and finished seventh in the Irish Derby. His American career started later that summer.

The year-end loss in Asia did not diminish Winchester’s accomplishments in 2010. His two Grade 1 stakes wins during the season proved that he could thrive on firm or yielding turf at distances up to 1 1/2 miles on turf against some of the best turf horses in the United States.

For the Firestones, the success of Winchester has personal gratification. They bred the now 6-year-old horse, who is by Theatrical out of the Irish-bred mare Rum Charger. In 2010, they watched Winchester become a millionaire in the finest season of his career.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Winchester's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Manhattan Handicap at Belmont Park >>