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 Thursday 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. Matt Schera's Glorious Empire joins Expert Eye and sprinter Stormy Liberal as Eclipse finalists in the male turf category. British-bred Expert Eye won the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) in his only North American start last year, while Stormy Liberal won four of seven starts, two in graded-stakes, capped by the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Glorious Empire won three graded-stakes in 2018 – the Sword Dancer (G1) and Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga and the Fort Lauderdale (G2) Dec. 15 at Gulfstream, a field where all 13 horses were graded-stakes winners, five of them in Grade 1 company.