While an Eclipse Award was far from anyone’s mind when Glorious Empire finished sixth in his seasonal debut at Laurel Park last April, Weston Hamilton had but one goal when 2018 began – to bring the cherished bronze trophy home to Maryland.
Their paths will converge when the 48th annual ceremony is held for the seventh straight year Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park, as both Hamilton and Glorious Empire are among the favorites to be named champions in their respective divisions.
Hamilton, 20, led all apprentice riders with 862 starts, 118 wins and $3.43 million in purse earnings in 2018, riding with the bug through Dec. 21. He is joined as a finalist by California-based Edgar Morales and Reylu Gutierrez, who rode briefly at Laurel in the fall.
“It’s an honor and it is a blessing and it’s a dream come true. I’ve been chomping on the bit all year and trying to do my best and get the job done as much as we could. Being a finalist is just amazing, and it’s breathtaking just being able to go to Florida,” Hamilton said. “Win it or not, it’s a great opportunity and just a blessing to be able to go. I’ve never even been to Florida before. It’s going to be a good trip, man. I got a bunch of family going. It’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be a real adrenaline rush for sure. I’m so ready. I’m ready to go.”
Youngest son of journeyman rider Steve Hamilton, a winner of nearly 1,400 races also based at Laurel and currently working his way back from a back ailment, Wes Hamilton is attempting to become the 11th Maryland-based rider to win the Eclipse as top apprentice – a group led by Hall of Famers Chris McCarron (1974) and Kent Desormeaux (1987) – and the first since Victor Carrasco in 2013.
“I took it day by day but I had it in the back of my head a little bit. I didn’t show it too much,” Hamilton said. “I had known that a lot of Maryland jockeys have won the Eclipse Award and that was one of my main goals this year, to try to be a finalist. I kind of set my goals a little high. I thought that was a little high expectations from when I first started but it came together and it’s a dream come true. I can’t even think straight right now, I’m so ready. I’m excited.”
Hamilton finished second or tied for second in wins at each of Laurel’s three 2018 meets, and already this year won the $100,000 Nellie Morse Stakes Jan. 12 aboard Dale Capuano-trained Timeless Curls. Jockey and trainer teamed up to win 46 of 157 races (29 percent) last year.
“He works hard, that’s one good aspect about him. He’s not afraid to work. He listens to what you tell him to do and tries to ride them the way you want them ridden. He rides aggressive, he rides hard, so you can’t ask for much more than that out of a jock,” Capuano, a winner of more than 3,400 career races, said. “It’s not like it was given to him on a silver platter; he had to work for it, and he did. So, he deserves all the success he gets, that’s for sure.”