Caressing picked the right time to run her best race when she won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Churchill Downs in November. The division was one of the most wide open throughout 2000, and Caressing soared to the top echelon and an Eclipse Award with her half-length victory over Platinum Tiara.
Her veteran trainer, David Vance, was hopeful but not overly confident going into the Breeders' Cup. "She deserves to get into the race," he said at the time. "We're taking a shot, but so are a lot of other people. Nobody is scared of anyone in this race. She knows the track at Churchill. She works well over it, and it's her home base."
The home-field advantage proved enough for Caressing, who made a bold, six-wide move to take the Breeders' Cup. Carl Pollard, who owns Caressing and Hermitage Farm near Goshen, Ky., was so genuinely elated during the awards ceremony following the race that it became one of the feel-good moments of the day. Caressing was Pollard's first Breeders' Cup starter, although he has campaigned such stakes winners as Sheepscot, Duck Trap, and Take Me Out. Former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, who owns Airdrie Stud, a top stallion farm near Midway, Ky., bred Caressing.
Caressing is by the leading first-crop sire of 2000, Honour and Glory, whose progeny had earned $1,436,584 through Dec. 31. Caressing's $690,642 in winnings for the year amounted to nearly half her sire's total. She is out of the stakes-winning mare Lovin Touch, who produced the stakes-winning Platinum Blonde in 1993. Caressing has already become the most successful offspring of Lovin Touch, who died last year while foaling a Cat's Career filly.
Caressing gave notice of her talent in early September when she captured the Bassinet Stakes at River Downs, finishing the six furlongs seven lengths ahead of her nearest pursuer. Caressing survived a claim of foul that day to become the first stakes winner for her sire.
Pollard buys yearlings under the advisement of bloodstock agent Mike Ryan. At the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale, Ryan went to $180,000 for Caressing. "I don't see them or know anything about them until they arrive at the farm," Pollard said.
The entire racing world knows about this smallish filly now. Caressing is enjoying a couple of months off before beginning training for a spring campaign.
Trainer Vance, who has won more than 1,000 races with mostly claimers, is now a perfect one-for-one in Breeders' Cup competition. He has conditioned numerous stakes winners, including grade I winners Honky Star and Royal Glint. His trainee Hot n Nasty finished just 2 1/4 lengths behind the immortal Ruffian in the 1974 Sorority Stakes (gr. I), the closest any filly got to Ruffian at the finish of a race.
His 2000 Eclipse Award winner is a "pleasant filly, a little on the ornery side," Vance said. "She's fairly easy to train, but don't make her do something she doesn't want to do."
At 47-1, the longest shot on the board in the Juvenile Fillies, apparently Caressing wanted to win.