Last week, S&P Capital IQ announced the finalists for its second annual U.S. Mutual Fund Excellence Awards Program. Thirty actively managed mutual funds made the cut in ten different asset-class categories. Next month, S&P will name the gold, silver, and bronze medal award-winners in each category. In this four-part series, we'll take a closer look at the finalists in some of the more popular asset-class groups. Are your funds among the winners?

Large and in charge
Domestic large-cap stocks should account for a meaningful portion of any investor's portfolio. If you're relatively young, you might want to set 35% of assets as a good target, whereas folks in retirement should scale that back to somewhere around 20%. Not to mention, now is a good time to be devoting some resources to this area of the market. While smaller stocks have had a veritable field day in the past decade, larger, more established companies have failed to impress. That means valuations are much more attractive in the large-cap space, pointing to greater opportunity for appreciation down the road.

S&P's three finalists in this category are BBH Core Select Fund (BBTEX), Dreyfus Appreciation (DGAGX), and Invesco Disciplined Equity (AWEIX). These names are likely unfamiliar to a good number of investors, but that doesn't mean that these funds aren't solid performers, worthy of your investment dollars.

At first glance, all three funds have put up respectable returns, earning a spot near the top of the large-cap-blend peer group in recent years. Over the most recent five-year trailing time period, the BBH fund has posted a 5% annualized return, while the Dreyfus candidate measures in with a 0.9% showing, and the Invesco fund has put up a 1.5% return.

Turnover is fairly low at all three funds, indicating that management here is buying for the long run. While the Invesco fund is the youngest of the bunch, with an inception date of December 2005, the Dreyfus offering has the longest track record, dating back to 1984. And while the BBH fund has been in business since 1998, its current management team stepped on board back in 2005.

The Dreyfus and BBH funds tend to be a bit more concentrated in nature. BBH Core Select has just 30 holdings, and its top 10 holdings account for nearly half of fund assets. Dreyfus Appreciation has 51 holdings and 43% of assets in the top 10 stocks, while Invesco Disciplined Equity clocks in with 62 holdings and just 26% of assets in the top 10. Expenses in all cases are reasonable, with a 1.00% charge for the BBH fund, 0.99% price tag for the Dreyfus fund, and 0.75% for the Invesco option. Each of these funds has a lot going for itself, but eventually only one can be awarded the top honor.

Best in show
My pick for the gold-medal winner in this category: Dreyfus Appreciation.

While I think investors would do well with any of these three funds, the Dreyfus fund gets the nod from me. I think this fund has the most consistent and long-standing investment process. Both of the other funds really only date back to 2005, given current management. Manager Fayez Sarofim has managed the Dreyfus fund for more than 25 years, and the current team has been in place for more than a decade. I like the approach here, as well as the fund's current positioning -- the portfolio is heavily tilted to defensive consumer names such as Philip Morris (NYSE: PM), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ), reasonably priced, stable names that should excel in what is likely to be a continuing slow-growth economic environment. But a few more exciting, growth-oriented names like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) also make an appearance in the fund's top 10 holdings, leaving room for more outsized portfolio growth.

In comparison, while the BBH fund has been successful, it may be a bit too concentrated for some investors, posing greater risks if some holdings don't measure up. And while the Invesco fund has certainly done well, I would like to see a little bit more of an extended track record than just five and a half years.

To be sure, Dreyfus Appreciation won't excite in strong market rallies, but it should hold up very well if the market takes another tumble south. And given that almost no one is calling for strong economic growth anytime in the near future, the fund's defensive positioning shouldn't hold it back in the coming years. The fund hasn't done as well in the past couple of years as the other two candidates, but I think over the long run, investors should make out pretty well with Dreyfus Appreciation. Its time-tested investment process and consistent management team make this one a winner.

Stay tuned for part two of this series, where we'll look at S&P's mid-cap fund finalists to see which one should take home the gold.

Amanda Kish is the Fool's resident fund advisor for the Rule Your Retirement investment newsletter. At the time of publication, she did not own any of the funds or companies mentioned herein. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.