01/17/2013 3:18PM

Eclipse Awards: Wise Dan favored for Horse of the Year

Tom Keyser
Wise Dan has a good chance to win three titles Saturday night, including Horse of the Year.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Wise Dan is a finalist for champion male turf horse and champion older male, and is the favorite to be named Horse of the Year, when the 42nd Eclipse Awards are presented Saturday night at Gulfstream Park.

Wise Dan won five times in six starts last year, including a season-ending victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. The two other finalists for Horse of the Year are I’ll Have Another, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, who is heavily favored to be named champion 3-year-old male; and Fort Larned, the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner who, like Wise Dan, is a finalist for champion older male.

Little Mike, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf, is a finalist for champion older male turf horse and champion older male, but is not a finalist for Horse of the Year.

If Wise Dan sweeps the three awards in which he is a finalist, he would be the first horse to win those awards in the same year since John Henry in 1981.

Finalists in all 17 divisions – 11 for horses, six for humans – were determined by votes among members of the National Turf Writers Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose voting group includes racing secretaries and members of Equibase. There were 272 eligible voters, of whom 254 returned ballots. The votes are pooled, so the horse or person with the most first-place votes wins. Bloc voting was done away with several years ago.

[2012 ECLIPSE AWARDS: Read DRF finalist profiles, watch ceremony live]

Most of the categories are considered slam dunks, most notably Shanghai Bobby for champion 2-year-old male, and Groupie Doll for champion female sprinter. Groupie Doll also is a finalist for champion older female, but Royal Delta is the strong favorite in that division.

There are, however, several categories seen as toss-ups, including Wise Dan vs. Little Mike for champion male turf horse, Questing vs. My Miss Aurelia for champion 3-year-old filly, Demonstrative vs. Pierrot Lunaire for champion steeplechaser, and the often-unpredictable choice of champion apprentice jockey, where Jose Montano, Irad Ortiz Jr., and Angel Suarez are the finalists.

Dale Romans, the trainer of Little Mike, is the slight favorite to be named champion trainer, but finalists Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert, both of whom have won previously, also had outstanding years.

Also Saturday night, the Eclipse Award of Merit will be presented to Nick Nicholson. In addition, Michael Beychok will be recognized for his victory in last year’s Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.

The awards ceremony begins at 8 p.m. Eastern, and will be televised live by HRTV and streamed live on DRF.com. The announcement for Horse of the Year is expected at approximately 10:30.

Jeannine Edwards of ESPN will host the awards for the second year in a row.