After some encouraging performances in defeat from some of its top stakes runners in recent graded stakes, including in the Breeders’ Cup, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners will look to close out 2023 on a high note when Anisette starts in the American Oaks (G1T) at Santa Anita Park Dec. 26.
The Leonard Powell-trained 3-year-old daughter of Awtaad , winner of the Del Mar Oaks (G1T) and San Clemente Stakes (G2T) this summer at Del Mar, is the likely favorite for the turf test on opening day of the Santa Anita winter/spring meet. She enters the American Oaks after second-place finishes in the Nov. 5 Autumn Miss Stakes (G3T) and Oct. 7 Rodeo Drive Stakes (G2T) at Santa Anita.
She is 4-3-0 in eight starts and 3-2-0 in five races since she was imported to the United States and began racing for Eclipse and Powell. She initially started in the United Kingdom.
“She’ll have had seven weeks from the Autumn Miss to the American Oaks, and it’ll be on her home turf (at) a mile and a quarter against straight 3-year-old fillies,” said Aron Wellman, president and founder of Eclipse. “We’re very enthused about putting an exclamation point on what’s already been a blockbuster season for her.”
For the partnership that owns her, this year through Dec. 19, Eclipse-owned horses were 21-16-23 from 127 starts with $2,279,486 in earnings. A victory from Anisette would push those earnings past Eclipse’s best year by earnings in 2016 when the partnership’s horses made $2,381,926.
These figures do not account for the many horses Eclipse owns in partnership. As one example, Eclipse owns Breeders’ Futurity (G1) winner Locked with Walmac Farm.
Since a closing third-place finish in the Breeders Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, Locked has recorded a pair of workouts at Palm Beach Downs in South Florida with Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher: a three-furlong move Dec. 12 in :37.94 and a half-mile breeze Dec. 20 in :50.90.
The Gun Runner colt is on the same workout schedule as Repole Stable’s Fierceness , another Pletcher trainee and the anticipated champion 2-year-old male of 2023 after his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Mike Repole of Repole Stable previously told BloodHorse that Fierceness would likely race twice before the May 4 Kentucky Derby (G1) should all go well, and Wellman indicated he and Pletcher “would like to be content with a two-race (prep) campaign” for Locked.
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Wellman said it is too early to have concrete plans, but he mentioned the Feb. 3 Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park or the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs as initial races in 2024 under consideration. From there, Locked could pursue a race such as the March 30 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream or the April 6 Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.
Pletcher, a two-time Derby winner and four-time Belmont Stakes (G1) winner, typically keeps his best 3-year-olds separated from one another in starts before the Triple Crown.
“Look, we’ve been fortunate to be down this path before with Todd, and there’s no one better along the Derby trail and winning major Derby preps and getting horses to the classics than Todd is,” Wellman said. “So we know we’re in good hands. When he’s got a target, he doesn’t miss too often. We know he’s in the right human hands, and it’ll be up to the horse to prove that he can execute the game plan.”
Either solely or in partnership, Eclipse has run the following horses in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown: Danza , third in 2014; Destin , sixth in 2016; Tapwrit , sixth in 2017; and Gray Magician , 19th in 2019. Pletcher trained all but Gray Magician, who Peter Miller started.
Destin later ran second in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont, the third and final race of the Triple Crown, beaten by a nose. Tapwrit scored in the Belmont in 2017.
Eclipse also has a candidate for next spring’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) run the day before the Derby at Churchill Downs. A year and a half ago, Eclipse came close to winning the Oaks when Nest , a filly Eclipse campaigned through this season with Repole Stable and Michael House. Nest ran second to Secret Oath in the 2022 Oaks.
Candied , third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and winner of the Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland, is pointed toward that 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies in 2024. Unlike Locked, the daughter of Candy Ride was given 30 days off after the Juvenile Fillies.
“We were delighted with her performance in the Breeders’ Cup,” Wellman said. “She stumbled really bad from the one hole leaving the gate and then got shuffled way back and had to maneuver her way through. A big field of fillies, and she took a ton of dirt (in her face), tipped out wide in the stretch, and just came up a tick shy. So that was a monster performance in our book from her.”
“She’s due to return to Todd’s barn at Palm Beach Downs early next week,” Wellman added.
The first high-value target of 2024 for Eclipse is the $500,000 Pegasus Filly and Mare Turf Invitational Stakes (G2T) Jan. 27 at Gulfstream Park, where the partnership has aimed the Michael McCarthy-trained Queen Goddess in an attempt to capture the race for the second consecutive year. Eclipse owns Queen Goddess with Gary Barber.