Racing Voices: Across The World With Twilight

Racing Voices: Across The World With Twilight
Photo: Coglianese Photos/Courtney Heeney
Twilight Eclipse
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Racing Voices is a new online feature dedicated to storytelling in the words of our sport's active figures—breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, bloodstock agents, and more. Florida breeder Bill Killeen kicked off the series with The Fastest Horse in the World, and now West Point Thoroughbreds' communications director Erin Finley writes of the plain bay runner—a $1,000 yearling purchase—who is now taking West Point to Dubai. To submit an essay to Racing Voices, e-mail cnovak@bloodhorse.com.  
 
By Erin Finley
 
In the summer of 2012, Steve Castagnola e-mailed us the past performances for a 3-year-old Purim gelding who'd just gone two-for-two at Indiana Downs. Intriguing, yes—but did I lose sleep from excitement over the possibility of buying this horse? Certainly not. 
 
Fast forward a year and a half, and a plain brown gelding has made such incredible memories for me, my family, our partners, and our company. I do not take credit for identifying this horse and orchestrating the deal, but I want to share with you why he has made my life better. 
 
There was something very, very different about Twilight Eclipse when I watched his first two races. It sounds corny, but he just had such a will to win and was as smooth as any horse I'd seen. He was completely overlooked in his first start at Indiana Downs, dispatched at 13-1. Nobody knew what a diamond in the rough we'd found in this average-sized bay "engine that could." 
 
A few days after watching the replays, my fiance Daniel and I met Steve Castagnola at the Thoroughbred Center on Paris Pike in Lexington to see him in the flesh. I remember it was a sticky, muggy, gross late June morning. Little did I know I would meet the horse who is taking me across the world next week. A few minutes after seeing Twilight Eclipse for the first time, I called my dad and said, "He's not all that big. He's a plain brown wrapper. But there's something about him. There's something about him." 
 
Within a few days Twilight Eclipse was in Tom Albertrani's barn at Belmont Park. I didn't see him again until the next month in Saratoga Race Course, but he gave me that same amazing feeling I felt when I watched his first two races from my home office in Lexington. Tom Bellhouse and I watched him work five-eighths from the frontside one morning, and neither one of us said a word as he crossed the wire and galloped out. We both knew we had a very, very special horse. 
 
Twilight Eclipse's first few races with West Point were decent, but I think all of us were wondering if he was ever going to give us that "feeling" again. 
 
I watched him win the 2012 W. L. McKnight (gr. IIT) from my soon-to-be-in-laws' living room in Cold Spring, Ky. I'd be lying if I said I didn't tear up when he crushed a group of older horses at 11-1 in his first try going a mile and a half at Calder Casino & Race Course
 
We freshened him after the win and brought him back in the 2013 Mac Diarmida (gr. IIT) at Gulfstream Park. He didn't really fire that day over wet turf...we've come to learn the firmer the better.
 
Fast-forward to March 23, 2013, which goes down as one of the best days of my life. After the Mac Diarmida, I wasn't so sure I'd make the return trip to Gulfstream, but I'm so glad I did. I'll never forget standing in the winner's circle and hearing the words "new world record" ring in my ears after the Pan American Stakes (gr. IIT). The gelding who commanded only $1,000 as a yearling set a world record for 1 1/2 miles on the turf, going in 2:22.63. Unreal! Barbara Livingston captured the sheer excitement and astonishment in my face, and most everybody in our group was teary eyed. It was a truly remarkable day. 
 
I'm going to come out and just say it—Twilight Eclipse should have won the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park last year. He was flying late to get beat just over two lengths after being way too far back early. I know there's no woulda, shoulda, coulda in this game, but that's a "shoulda" I really believe. 
 
Two graded stakes wins after the Breeders' Cup disappointment (he won the McKnight again and we got that Mac Diarmida win in February), here we are preparing to take a $1,000 yearling across the world for the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-IT) next month. And not only are we going to go, he's got a hell of a chance.
 
I couldn't be prouder of what he's accomplished. Horses like this are why we're all involved in racing, and remember, a good horse can come from anywhere. 
 
And if you're wondering, the feeling he gave me the first time I watched his races has never gone away, and I'm incredibly thankful for that.
 
To quote my favorite band Sting, this one's for Twilight...If I ever lose my faith in you, there's nothin' left for me to do. 
 
Go kick some ass.
 
To follow Twilight Eclipse at West Point Thoroughbreds in Dubai, visit Track Talk at the partnership's website.

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