West Point Thoroughbreds' world-record holder Twilight Eclipse earned a career-best victory May 9 at Belmont Park, winning the $400,000 Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) by a neck to take home his first grade I event (VIDEO).
In 2014 Twilight Eclipse had the misfortune of facing the year's champion turf male, Main Sequence, in four consecutive grade I races, culminating in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). Though he failed to beat Main Sequence during the campaign, he ran consistently well, never finishing worse than third and hitting the line within two lengths of his champion foe in each of the four times they met.
It was more of the same in his 2015 debut. After pressing the pace in the grade II Mac Diarmida on February 21 at Gulfstream Park, Twilight Eclipse was passed late by Main Sequence and lost by three-quarters of a length. In his second start of the year, he again lost by three-quarters of a length, this time to Imagining in the grade II Pan American at Gulfstream.
"It's been very satisfying for everybody that's involved and for his connections to (finally) get that grade I," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "I know we've been beaten in a couple of spots, but he shows up every time. I think (in previous races), the horses were just that good; you know you have horses like Main Sequence. Without a horse like (that) in the race, this horse looks like a champion himself, but to his credit, he did train really well coming into this race. I thought we would have had a little bit of a harder time, especially with the slow fractions, but he was able to get there."
The 6-year-old Purim gelding finished the 1 3/8-mile test on firm turf in 2:14.44 under jockey Javier Castellano, who rode his fourth winner on the day. The duo wore down pacesetter War Dancer in the final strides. Hyper, running for the first time since November of 2013, ran third after breaking through the starting gate from post 2 prior to the race.
The Man o' War did not begin well for Imagining, the winner of last year's edition, who was checked hard going into the first turn and finished fifth as the 8-5 favorite in a field of six. Hardest Core, upset winner of the 2014 Arlington Million (gr. IT), ran last in his first start since the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
Twilight Eclipse, on the other hand, got the perfect stalking trip in second behind 8-1 War Dancer. That rival showed the way through easy early fractions of :24.91, :50.62, and 1:15.44, maintaining a half-length advantage over the eventual winner while running the mile in 1:39.49.
"I thought in my mind, turning for home, I could have put a little pressure on the front-runner, because the pace was very slow," Castellano said. "But (Twilight Eclipse) has a short, short run and good kick. I was a little concerned about the ground, because it was a little soft, and usually that type of horse likes it very firm. But he had so much class today. He just galloped along and was right there."
Rounding the turn, it looked as though the front two might get some company from Hardest Core, but the Arlington Million winner faded and Imagining never kicked on while Twilight Eclipse dug deep to get up in time.
"Turning for home, if we moved too soon, he would be hanging. If he moved too late, he wouldn't get there," Castellano said. "At the right time, the right place, he made the move."
Sent off at odds of 9-5, Twilight Eclipse paid $5.90, $3.30, and $2.40 while War Dancer brought $6.70 and $4.40 with Hyper paying $4.80. Dynamic Sky , Imagining, and Hardest Core completed the order of finish.
Twilight Eclipse was bred in Kentucky by Epona Thoroughbreds and was a $1,000 purchase from the Select Sales consignment at the 2010 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale by John Langemeier. He was purchased privately by West Point after winning twice in Indiana in 2012, and now has five graded stakes scores to his credit along with a runner-up finish in the 2013 Man o' War to Boisterous and multiple finishes close behind champion Main Sequence. He improved his record to 7-5-4 from 24 starts for earnings of $1,587,986.