Twilight Eclipse Merits Long Look in Breeders' Cup Turf
Horse racing can be an unforgiving game, especially at the upper level where the stakes are highest and the difference in ability among the leading contenders is often razor thin. Just ask the connections for Twilight Eclipse, the hard-trying gelding who lost three grade I races this summer by a grand total of 1 1/4 lengths to the same horse, Main Sequence.
Disappointing, of course, maybe even excruciating, but there's always a next time. And that's how Terry Finley, founder and president of the racing partnership firm West Point Thoroughbreds and New York trainer Tom Albertrani prefer to look at it. The biggest stage in North American grass racing, the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita ParkNov. 1, is still up for grabs. And Twilight Eclipse, a multiple graded stakes-winning 5-year-old son of Purim out of the Twilight Agenda mare Twilight Dancer, will be there sporting West Point's familiar black and gold silks.
Finley, reached at West Point's headquarters in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., stressed the positives from the successive defeats in the United Nations, Sword Dancer Invitational, and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, among the most prestigious grade I turf races in the country.
"Anybody who is in the business knows how we felt. But what are you going to do?" Finley said. "You just know (Twilight Eclipse) showed up and gave a great effort, and just wasn't fortunate enough to come away with a win. But you've got to love how hard he tried."
"It's all about racing luck, and he just didn't have it," added Albertrani, who notes Twilight Eclipse's summer efforts came after an exhausting journey to Dubai, where he finished 12th in the Sheema Classic (UAE-I). "It was exciting to see him come back from the Dubai trip the way he did. So it looks like the (BC Turf) will be his breakthrough."
Denied a grade I victory so far, Twilight Eclipse is a four-time graded stakes winner with lifetime earnings of $994,786 on a career line of 6-4-2 in 20 starts. Not bad for a horse bred in Kentucky by Epona Farms that cost owner John Langemeier $1,000 as a yearling out of the Select Sales consignment at the 2010 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.
Twilight Eclipse was purchased privately by West Point for $125,000 from Langemeier after winning his first two starts in Indiana as a 3-year-old.
This will not be the bay's first start in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He finished sixth last year, a little more than seven months after setting a world record for 12 furlongs on the turf of 2:22.73 in winning the Pan American Stakes (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park on March 23, 2013.
But once again, Twilight Eclipse didn't have the best racing luck in his first try at Santa Anita. With Julien Leparoux aboard, he was bumped at the start, shuffled back to near the rear of the 12-horse field, then had to wait off heels coming into the stretch before launching a belated bid to finish 2 1/4 lengths behind the victorious Magician.
Albertrani says Javier Castellano will have the ride on Twilight Eclipse in this year's Breeders' Cup, replacing Jose Lezcano.
"It was a tough call," Albertrani said. "Jose has been riding well on him but Javier has ridden him in the past, and we just felt we would make a little change there."
Finley is hardly discouraged by the effort of Twilight Eclipse in last year's BC Turf and is looking forward to returning.
"He loves it out there," he says of Southern California. "The firm turf course really suits him. All we have to do is turn the tables on Main Sequence and hope some of the others like Magician don't have their best days."
Back in Florida for the winter, Twilight Eclipse bounced back from the rough trip in last fall's BC Turf to post consecutive wins in the W. L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIIT) and Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT). That led to the decision to try Dubai, where Finley and team were joined by a couple of dozen fellow owners from the partnership.
Twilight Eclipse was forwardly placed in the Sheema Classic, but soon dropped out of it.
"He just didn't show up," Finley said. "It was a long ways to go to not have a good day at the office. But that's what happened. It just wasn't his day."
Albertrani, who trained for 12 years for Godolphin, was able to bring Twilight Eclipse back from the long journey in good style, something he's had experience with during his time as the top assistant to Saeed Bin Suroor. He worked with notable horses such as Street Cry , Fantastic Light, and Daylami, winner of the 1999 Breeders' Cup Turf.
"We backed off the training on him for several weeks and gave him a chance to put his weight back on," Albertrani said.
But Twilight Eclipse is an ambitious worker and within two months was ready to return to battle, Albertrani said. He entered him in the inaugural two-mile Belmont Gold Cup Invitational June 6 and Twilight Eclipse was in control at the quarter pole before weakening in the stretch to finish fourth. The race set him up nicely for the summer.
A month later, in the United Nations at 1 3/8 miles at Monmouth Park, Twilight Eclipse stalked the pace from third, and waited for running room before getting a short lead at mid-stretch, then was caught in the final strides on the outside by British import Main Sequence, who won by a neck in his initial U.S. start.
In the Sword Dancer Aug. 17 at Saratoga Race Course, Twilight Eclipse rated about a length off pacesetter Imagining for most of the 1 1/2-mile journey but could not get by him in deep stretch as Main Sequence rallied to win by a head. Twilight Eclipse lost by three-quarters of a length.
That same trio went at it again in the 1 1/2-mile Turf Classic Sept. 27 at Belmont Park. This time, Lezcano had Twilight Agenda in a ground-saving pocket and tracked Imagining on a slow pace. Angling into the two path, Twilight Agenda reached even terms with Imagining past the furlong mark and got a narrow lead as Imagining drifted out late. Main Sequence, closing on the outside, came in at the same time and the two bumped hard a few yards from the finish. Stewards reviewed the finish but allowed Main Sequence's neck victory to stand.
How bad was it? Even Graham Motion, the trainer of Main Sequence who also conditions horses for West Point, said after the race that he felt badly after seeing Twilight Agenda denied again.
In spite of the losses, Finley and Albertrani head to California with plenty of confidence. Twilight Eclipse will get a faster tempo, which will suit his stalking style, and the resilient gelding's foundation is solid after a summer-long campaign.
Since 2007 when West Point began competing at the elite level, it has had much success with grade I winners such as Awesome Gem, Dream Rush, Flashy Bull , and Macho Again. But a Breeders' Cup win would be a first.
"From our standpoint, as I was just telling my partner Tom Bellhouse (West Point's chief operating officer), this horse came along at just the right time," Finley said. "But any time would be right to compete at the very top level."