On January 14, a three-year-old filly made her first start, at Turfway Park in Kentucky. Beautifully bred, by Empire Maker out of the Storm Cat mare Cat Chat, she was running for a $22,000 purse, and across the country, Aron Wellman was watching.
“I loved her race,” he said this week at Saratoga Race Course. “I loved the way she got over the ground, and between her stride and her pedigree, I thought she was really a filly that would appreciate a route of ground.”
Wellman is the president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partnerships, the company that he started last year after working for several years at Team Valor International, a Thoroughbred ownership syndicate. In Lingerie’s race at Turfway was enough to spur him to make an offer to buy her for his fledgling company.
Since being acquired by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber, In Lingerie has borne out Wellman’s initial impressions: in her four starts for them, she’s got two wins, a second, and a third, all at distances of a mile or longer. In this afternoon’s Alabama Stakes, she’ll try a mile and a quarter for the first time in an attempt to notch her first Grade 1 win.
In Lingerie had been slated to run in the Kentucky Oaks, but days before the race, Wellman’s group decided to bypass it.
“She was training okay,” said Wellman, “but it would have been an aggressive move with just three races under her belt, in that type of environment. She’d have had to have been hitting on all cylinders.
“We always looked at her as a long-term filly, and we didn’t want to compromise her by running her in the Oaks.”
Though clearly the right decision in retrospect, Wellman admitted to some trepidation at the time. “It wasn’t easy getting on the phone and telling all the partners, “Hey, we’re staying home, and instead of going to the Oaks, we’re going to Pimlico,'” he said with a laugh.
Wellman says that there are about 15 partners who own a share of In Lingerie, more than usual for an Eclipse partnership, in part because the bay filly required a little more investing than the typical Eclipse Partnership horse. Though he declined to disclose In Lingerie’s purchase price, he did say, “We’re very appreciative of our partners stepping up to the plate and paying the premium for her.”
Cost wasn’t the only reason, though, for the bigger-than-usual ownership group.
“It was early on for us, and we wanted to give as many people as possible the opportunity to participate in a filly that would take us to the types of races that she’s gotten us to,” he explained. In Lingerie has won the Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks and Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan for her new owners, and finished third in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks.
Wellman’s relationship with In Lingerie’s trainer, Todd Pletcher goes back to the Team Valor days. “I’d worked with Todd for three and a half or four years when I was at Team Valor, and I had established a really good relationship with him,” said Wellman. “He trained multiple graded stakes winners for us during that time and a Breeders’ Cup winner, Pluck. I was all too happy to be welcomed back into the Pletcher operation when the time was right.”
Said Pletcher, “I had a good relationship with Aron in his Team Valor days. Then last year, we had a filly named Sweet Cat that my dad and I owned together that broke her maiden here at Saratoga. Aron contacted me and asked if I were interested in selling her, and we worked out a partnership deal where we maintained a little piece of her, and since then I’ve been fortunate enough to build a relationship and he’s sent us some nice horses to train.”
While Wellman describes his company as being in its “infancy,” Eclipse Partnership horses have won five graded stakes this year. “We’ve been really fortunate,” he said, “We’ve gotten off to a really good start.”
Wellman hopes that the year will get even better today, with a victory in the country’s oldest stakes race for fillies, with a horse who has done little wrong in the seven months he’s owned her.
“Look, we swing and miss plenty,” he said. “Fortunately, with this one, we made solid contact.