ARCADIA, Calif. – The final lunch hour of 2022 will be difficult to top anytime soon for the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners syndicate.
At 12:01 p.m. at Santa Anita on Saturday, the Eclipse-owned Air Force Red took an early lead in the Grade 2 Joe Hernandez Stakes on the hillside turf course and proved too fast to catch, winning by 1 3/4 lengths.
At 12:57 p.m., Queen Goddess, also owned by Eclipse, had a similar front-running trip in the Grade 3 Robert Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf and won by 2 1/2 lengths.
“We’ve set a high bar,” Eclipse president Aron Wellman said on Sunday.
Air Force Red and Queen Goddess are both 5-year-olds in 2023, and each has won 5 of 10 starts and is a multiple stakes winner.
Air Force Red, trained by Leonard Powell and co-owned by Holly Golightly, ran the best race of his career in the $252,500 Joe Hernandez Stakes, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 99. The win was preceded by a victory in the restricted Lure Stakes at a mile on turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 29 in which Air Force Red led throughout.
There are two Grade 1 races worth $500,000 for turf milers that are firmly on Air Force Red’s agenda in the first five months of 2023 – the Frank Kilroe Mile on March 4 and the Shoemaker Mile on May 29.
The Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28 is another possibility. Air Force Red has never raced at that distance.
“He might be dangerous if he gets loose in the race,” Wellman said. “I know it’s stretching his speed. Until he proves he can’t get nine furlongs, it’s something we can think of.
“The Hernandez was always designed to serve as a springboard to the Kilroe and Shoemaker. We can consider all those races.”
As for Queen Goddess, to some extent the Eclipse partnership is fortunate to have her on its team. The mare was sold for $1.525 million at the Fasig-Tipton November Sale in Kentucky in late 2022 to dissolve a partnership between Eclipse and Tolo Thoroughbreds, which bred Queen Goddess.
California-based owner Gary Barber and Eclipse teamed to purchase Queen Goddess and buy out the share held by Tolo Thoroughbreds. Considering the robust market for fillies and mares and broodmare prospects, Queen Goddess could easily have been purchased by a deeper-pocketed breeder.
“We were very fortunate to team with Gary Barber to continue to campaign her,” Wellman said.
Trainer Michael McCarthy has long considered Queen Goddess to be a stayer. Prior to the $102,500 Frankel Stakes, McCarthy said the race distance was on the shorter side of ideal for Queen Goddess, who has won two stakes at 1 1/4 miles – the Grade 1 American Oaks in December 2021, when the race was moved from turf to dirt because of inclement weather, and the Grade 3 Santa Ana Stakes on turf at Santa Anita last March.
The Santa Ana on March 12 is a possibility for Queen Goddess. Wellman said on Sunday that Queen Goddess has received an invitation to the Grade 3 Pegasus World Cup Filly and Mare Turf Invitational at 1 1/16 miles at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28, but cautioned the race distance may be too short.
“If it was a mile and an eighth it would be more appealing to us,” he said.
Queen Goddess was sidelined after a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Santa Barbara Stakes at 1 1/2 miles last May, but was in sharp form for her comeback in the Frankel Stakes. She set a comfortable pace and was never challenged.
“She’s a filly that has always given us the impression that as she got older and more mature she’d be a powerhouse,” Wellman said. “For her to do what she did off a seven-and-a-half-month layoff was encouraging.”
The Eclipse syndicate was hoping to try for a third stakes win of the New Year’s weekend in Sunday’s Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita with Lily Poo, but the race was postponed until Jan. 8 after an overnight rain storm led to the cancellation of Sunday’s program.
Eclipse bought Lily Poo after the filly won a maiden race at Del Mar on Dec. 2.