Chad Brown wasn’t in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Monday for the Eclipse Awards, remaining in Florida with his stable, but he had a keen eye on the proceedings, in particular the Female Turf division.
Stacelita was favored to win the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, but had a horrible trip and finished 10th of 11; she was still favored to win the female turf championship, and did so in a landslide.
Owner Martin Schwartz accepted the Eclipse Award for Stacelita, which was gratifying to her 33-year-old trainer from Mechanicville, who earned the first Eclipse Award of his career as a head trainer.
“It was really special,” Brown said by phone on Friday. “It’s so hard to win an Eclipse, and I was really hoping for the filly’s sake and for the owner, Martin Schwartz. He was adamant about running her as a 5-year-old, and he wasn’t going to bring her here unless he thought she was good enough to win an Eclipse. He was right.”
In Stacelita’s division, a total of 16 fillies and mares earned at least one point in the 10-5-1 system among the three voting blocs, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.
After the points were tabulated, the three finalists to be announced were Stacelita, Dubawi Heights and Perfect Shirl.
The championships were determined by first-place votes only, not points. With 158 first-place votes out of a total of 248, Stacelita easily won over Perfect Shirl (28) and Dubawi Heights (17). Never Retreat (25) actually had more first-place votes than Dubawi Heights did, but was not named as a finalist because Dubawi Heights had 664 points to 525 for Never Retreat.
Stacelita was the clear division leader heading into the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs off wins in the Beverly D. at Arlington Park and the Flower Bowl at Belmont Park, the second and third Grade I wins for Brown as a head trainer.
She was the morning-line and betting favorite, going off at 9-5 under Eclipse Award winning jockey Ramon Dominguez.
She appeared to have a good stalking trip, but she got stuck in traffic inside the half-mile pole, had to wait for running room, then didn’t fire in the stretch. She only beat one horse, although she was just 51⁄2 lengths behind winner Perfect Shirl.
There was doubt surrounding her coming into the race, since she had been hit in the eye with a clod of turf during the Flower Bowl, leading to an infection.
That cleared up enough in time for the Breeders’ Cup, but it compromised her training, and she wore a protective cup over the eye during workouts and the race.
Brown has several factors to choose from, but still doesn’t know why she had such a poor race in the Breeders’ Cup.
“It was definitely one that you’d like to do over, but in this game, you can’t,” he said. “I watched it again the week following, and I still wasn’t sure if it was because of the eye injury itself or the fact that is disrupted her schedule or the bad trip.
“She got inside and couldn’t run the way she wanted to. Maybe it was both, but you’ll never know if one contributed more than the other. It wasn’t an ideal way to go into the Breeders’ Cup as the favorite.”
Speculation leading up to the Eclipse Awards favored the 5-year-old Stacelita to still win the North American championship.
The French-based German-bred raced once more in France in June, then was hustled to the U.S. to take on males in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park, finishing third a length behind Teaks North.
The next day, she was a full-fledged member of Brown’s barn.
She was a length and a quarter better than Dubawi Heights in the Beverly D. and easily beat Distorted Legacy by two lengths in the Flower Bowl.
“I was confident she was the best turf mare on the ballot, but you never know how it’s going to go, especially because of how much the Breeders’ Cup can affect people’s decisions,” Brown said. “We were cautiously optimistic.
“Mr. Schwartz is a real sportsman and deserves an award like this, because he likes to run them.”
Stacelita has been sold to Terry Yoshida and will be bred to a Kentucky-based stallion before traveling to Japan once she’s in foal, Brown said.
With Stacelita gone, the star of Brown’s barn by far is the undefeated Awesome Feather, and she’ll breeze at Palm Meadows training center this morning as a final tuneup for the Sunshine Millions Distaff at Gulfstream Park next Saturday.
Because of a tendon problem that wiped out most of her sophomore season, the 2010 2-year-old filly champion has made just two starts for Brown since she was purchased by Frank Stronach off her win in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The 4-year-old is healthy to start 2012 and joins an interesting group in the older filly and mare division that includes Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, 3-year-old filly champion Royal Delta and Awesome Maria.
Awesome Feather’s 2011 campaign didn’t begin until October, when she won the Le Slew at Belmont in her comeback from an
11-month layoff, and she followed that up with the second Grade I of her career, the Gazelle at Aqueduct on Nov. 26.
“It’s always good to start the season with a good horse,” Brown said. “You can run in stakes right away, but on the other hand, it’s a long year, and you know you’re not
going to be able to dance every dance. We’ll play the hand that we’re dealt with this particular filly.”
Awesome Feather has been breezing steadily at Palm Meadows and should be a very short price in the Sunshine Millions Distaff.
Despite the long layoff and the unpredictability of tendon injuries, she appeared not to have lost any of her ability, a product of the patience that Stronach and Brown had with her.
Brown continues to keep a tight watch on her to make sure no problems flare up.
“You can’t look beyond this race or the next breeze,” he said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves with this filly.
“We keep an extremely close eye on her every day. She was 100 percent the last two times she worked, and continues to be. Hopefully, she stays that way. If anything is out of order, we’ll stop immediately.”
Havre de Grace, the third female in a row to win Horse of the Year, is scheduled to start her 5-year-old season in the March 17 $100,000 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds.
Royal Delta, who beat older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and won the Alabama at Saratoga Race Course, was sold to Besilu Stable for $8.5 million at the Keeneland November Sale, but she has been returned to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the 2011 Eclipse Award winner, and will race as a 4-year-old.
She’s pointing toward the Dubai World Cup.
Blind Luck has been retired, but Awesome Maria, another Eclipse finalist who had her 2011 season cut short by a condylar fracture during a workout at Saratoga, will race as a 5-year-old.
She won all four of her starts last year, the last of which was the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont in June, after which she was hurt while training for the Ruffian at Saratoga.
She breezed on Monday for trainer Todd Pletcher, and may race in February.
“I think it’s a good division this year with a lot of fillies on board, particularly the three [Eclipse] finalists,” Brown said. “I think you’ll see us all on different paths at the beginning of the year, and maybe if everybody stays healthy, we’ll get them all together in one big race. We’ll see.”
He said he expects that, although Awesome Feather came back on the scene very late last year, the fact that she’s still undefeated in seven career starts puts a target on her.
“That doesn’t play into the way we train or anything, but when you go into the gate, there’s no question there’s extra pressure, being undefeated,” he said.
Following are the number of first-place votes in each category:
Horse of the Year: Havre de Grace 166, Acclamation 26, Game On Dude 10, Cape Blanco 9, Royal Delta 6, Tizway 6, Drosselmeyer 6, Rapid Redux 4, My Miss Aurelia 3, Animal Kingdom 3, Caleb’s Posse 2, Hansen 1. (4 abstentions, 1 no-vote)
2-year-old male: Hansen 194, Union Rags 52, Secret Circle 1, Overdriven 1.
2-year-old filly: My Miss Aurelia 247, Stephanie’s Kitten 1.
3-year-old male: Animal Kingdom 114, Caleb’s Posse 111, Shackleford 12, Ruler On Ice 5, Stay Thirsty 4, Uncle Mo 1. (1 abstention)
3-year-old female: Royal Delta 243, Awesome Feather 2, Plum Pretty 2, Zazu 1.
Older male: Acclamation 95, Game On Dude 70, Tizway 52, Drosselmeyer 21, Flat Out 4, Cape Blanco 3, Wise Dan 1. (1 abstention, 1 no-vote)
Older female: Havre de Grace 245, Blind Luck 2, Awesome Maria 1.
Male sprinter: Amazombie 201, Caleb’s Posse 42, Regally Ready 2, The Factor 2, Jackson Bend 1.
Female sprinter: Musical Romance 131, Hilda’s Passion 53, Sassy Image 46, Turbulent Descent 13, Switch 2. (2 abstentions, 1 no-vote).
Male turf horse: Cape Blanco 172, Acclamation 55, St. Nicholas Abbey 16, Court Vision 2, Turallure 2, Drosselmeyer 1.
Female turf horse: Stacelita 158, Perfect Shirl 28, Never Retreat 25, Dubawi Heights 17, Summer Soiree 4, Aruna 3, Winter Memories 3, Goldikova 2, Cambina 1, Cozie Rosie 1, Sarah Lynx 1, Star Billing 1, Together 1. (3 abstentions)
Steeplechase horse: Black Jack Blues 137, Tax Ruling 80, Decoy Daddy 1, Divine Fortune 1, Lake Placid 1, Sermon of Love 1. (27 abstentions)
Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey 66, Midwest Thoroughbreds 60, Team Valor International 25, Godolphin Racing 21, Fox Hill Farms 20, Repole Stable 16, Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith 13, WinStar Farm 12, George and Lori Hall 2, Melnyk Racing 1, Maggi Moss 1, Estate of Edward P. Evans 1, Peter and Mary Hilvers et al. 1, Billy, Donna and Justin Hays 1. (8 abstentions)
Breeder: Adena Springs 151, Ken and Sarah Ramsey 62, Ocala Stud 5, Nancy Dillman 4, Aaron and Marie Jones 3, WinStar Farm 3, Darley 2, Estate of Edward P. Evans 2, Brereton C. Jones 2, Eugene Melnyk 1, Grapestock 1, Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings 1, Old English Rancho 1. (10 abstentions)
Trainer: Bill Mott 83, Bob Baffert 60, Todd Pletcher 57, Graham Motion 23, Steve Asmussen 15, Aidan O’Brien 4, Jerry Hollendorfer 1, Edmond Gaudet 1, Dale Romans 1. (3 abstentions)
Jockey: Ramon Dominguez 197, John Velazquez 30, Javier Castellano 14, Joel Rosario 2, DeShawn Parker 1 (3 abstentions, 1 no-vote).
Apprentice jockey: Kyle Frey 77, Ryan Curatolo 57, Rosario Montanez 19, C.J. McMahon 7, Irad Ortiz Jr. 3, Amanda Tamburello 3, Constantino Roman 1 (7 abstentions).
Following are the horses who received my first-place votes:
Horse of the Year: Havre de Grace;
2-year-old male: Hansen; 2-year-old filly: My Miss Aurelia; 3-year-old male: Caleb’s Posse; 3-year-old female: Royal Delta; Older male: Tizway; Older female: Havre de Grace; Male sprinter: Amazombie; Female sprinter: Hilda’s Passion; Male turf horse: Cape Blanco; Female turf horse: Stacelita; Steeplechase horse: Tax Ruling; Owner: Team Valor International; Breeder: Adena Springs; Trainer: Bob Baffert; Jockey: Ramon Dominguez; Apprentice jockey: Ryan Curatolo.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Champion sprinter Amazombie will make his 2012 debut today as the 9-5 morning-line favorite against seven rivals in the Grade II Palos Verdes at Santa Anita.
Euroears, who won the Palos Verdes and the Grade I Bing Crosby last year, is 4-1 and co-topweight at 123 pounds.
The 6-year-old I Want Revenge is the 7-5 favorite in the $75,000 Evening Attire at Aqueduct.
The 2009 Kentucky Derby favorite before being injured and missing the race, I Want Revenge hasn’t won since the 2009 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
He raced three times in 2011, finishing fourth in the Donn Handicap, 10th in the Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup day and second in the listed Three Coins Up at Belmont Park in May.
A wide open field of 13 3-year-olds has been assembled for the Grade III Lecomte, a Louisiana Derby prep at Fair Grounds.
Grade III Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Shared Property is 4-1. Bashford Manor and Sugar Bowl winner Exfactor is 5-1.
HERE AND THERE
As excited as Brown is about Awesome Feather, he’s taking a wait-and-see approach with the
3-year-olds in his stable, so he isn’t sure how involved he’ll be in the Kentucky Derby preps.
“We’ve got a few horses who are a little late getting started, but they have the right look and the right pedigree to be potential stakes-type 3-year-olds,” he said. “None of them have shown me enough where I’m going to stick my neck out. I haven’t seen enough right now to endorse any of them for the Derby trail.”
One of Brown’s 3-year-old prospects, Clip the Coupons, broke his maiden at Saratoga and was ninth in the Hopeful, but he’ll stick to one-turn races on the grass or synthetic, Brown said. Clip the Coupons finished second by a length to Artest in a five-furlong turf race at Gulfstream Park on Monday. . . .
The National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame will be closed from Monday until the end of February while it updates exhibits.
FANS PICK WOODWARD
Fans have voted the 2011 Woodward, in which Havre de Grace became the second female, after Rachel Alexandra, to win the race in its 58-year history, as the NYRA Race of the Year.
Havre de Grace’s Woodward received 37 percent of the vote, with the Foxwoods King’s Bishop, won narrowly by Caleb’s Posse over Uncle Mo, checking in second with 23 percent. Winter Memories’ Garden City victory was third with 20 percent, followed by Tizway’s Metropolitan Handicap tour de force with 12 percent and Royal Delta’s Alabama romp with 8 percent.
“The Woodward was probably the race that made us Horse of the Year contenders,” trainer Larry Jones told NYRA. “Having the Woodward voted as NYRA’s Race of the Year is a great honor for us. We thought it was a great race, and we’re glad the fans agreed. To have Havre de Grace become the second filly to win the Woodward was special.”
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