There was a race within a race in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I), as the Eclipse Award for 2015’s top 3-year-old filly hung in the balance among I'm A Chatterbox, Curalina, and Stellar Wind, all of whom competed in the event.
Stellar Wind, who finished second just a neck behind Stopchargingmaria and 3 1/2 lengths in front of Curalina, ultimately snagged the Eclipse Award.
It was a complicated battle for the hardware. Stellar Wind collected a single grade I win last year, one less than Curalina and the same number as I’m A Chatterbox. However, I’m A Chatterbox was disqualified from first in a controversial decision in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) and the benefactor of that was none other than Curalina.
In any event, Aron Wellman, president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, which owns Curalina, had his appetite whetted for the award, and Curalina has been primed this season to take another crack at the Distaff. She will likely have to win to earn the trophy for best older filly over Stellar Wind, who owns a pair of grade I victories over multiple champion Beholder this year.
Adding intrigue to the mix is that the Distaff field this time around, while short on numbers, could be the strongest in the history of the event. Although all of the aforementioned 4-year-olds have earned grade I victories this year, they’ve been overshadowed by the 3-year-old superstar Songbird, who is undefeated in 11 starts, including seven this season. Add Beholder and Forever Unbridled, who also have earned grade I victories this year, and you have the makings of a terrific event.
“It’s an honor just to be part of a field like this,” said Wellman, whose partnership entity just celebrated its fifth anniversary. “We’ve taken a more conservative approach with the spacing of Curalina’s races this year. Last year we tested Wedding Toast in the Beldame (gr. I), and we ran a good second, but we think it may have taken some starch out of her. Knowing that some of the best races of her career have come when she was freshened, we’ve remain disciplined with her agenda.”
Curalina has started four times this season after seven in 2015. Her last effort was a game second behind Cavorting in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) at the Distaff distance of nine furlongs. She was dynamite in winning the Shuvee (gr. III) by 9 1/4 lengths before that, and early in the season scored in the La Troienne (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners has benefited from its association with Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stable. As Campbell has ramped down his numbers, several Dogwood partners transitioned into Eclipse ventures, and Curalina was one of the first horses who came in the immediate aftermath of that arrangement. It was Campbell who named the filly, combining his longtime association with South Carolina with the fact that Curalina is a daughter of Curlin . It didn’t hurt that several of the Dogwood partners who transitioned to Eclipse were in on Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Palace Malice , a son of Curlin.
Eclipse will be looking for its first Breeder’s Cup victory. Besides last year’s Distaff, it campaigned Sweet Catto a third-place finish in the 2011 Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IIT) and Capo Bastone to a third in the 2012 Juvenile (gr. I).
“We have all the respect in the world for the other runners in the Distaff, and if you can’t get excited about having your filly be part of this blockbuster showdown, you don’t belong in this game,” Wellman noted. “This is what it’s all about—to prove champions and participate on the biggest stage, and we’re happy to have one deserving of the opportunity to compete.”