By: Jay Privman DRF
ELMONT, N.Y. – In its 10 years of existence, the racehorse partnership Eclipse Thoroughbreds has had 16 different Grade 1-winning racehorses, captured two Breeders’ Cup races, a Triple Crown race, the Australian Oaks, and a stakes at Royal Ascot. Pretty heady stuff. But this coming week has the potential to be one of the most significant in the organization’s history.
Beginning Friday, when Abaan runs in the Belmont Gold Cup, Eclipse in the space of six days will run four horses in major races on two continents, highlighted by Saturday’s attempted conquest of both the Belmont Stakes with the filly Nest and the Metropolitan Handicap with Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West here at Belmont Park. That precedes a start by Manhattan Jungle at Royal Ascot next Wednesday in the Queen Mary, which Eclipse won in 2021 with Quick Suzy.
“You don’t get a lot of time to reflect. It’s always what’s next, what have you done for me lately?” Aron Wellman, founder and president of Eclipse, said in a recent interview at a restaurant near his office in Del Mar, Calif. And while the 10-year mark has afforded Wellman, 44, and business partner Brian Spearman the opportunity to contemplate how far they’ve come, Wellman is equally eager for what’s ahead while keenly appreciative of, as he puts it, the “tap on the shoulder” that helped propel Eclipse to a higher level of prominence.
It was Cot Campbell, who pioneered racehorse partnerships through his successful Dogwood Stables, who tabbed Eclipse to continue Dogwood’s legacy via a merger in 2013, five years prior to Campbell’s death at the age of 91. Several of Campbell’s long-time employees, including treasurer Bill Victor and vice president Jack Sadler, are with Eclipse.
“Cot turbo-boosted Eclipse,” Wellman said. “It was the highest professional honor. In the racehorse partnership business, his was the ultimate endorsement. He sent us on a different trajectory. He had a huge hand in accelerating our growth.”
Campbell had a similar influence on a young trainer who in 1995 ventured out on his own with a dozen horses, the bulk owned by Dogwood. In less than 30 years, Todd Pletcher became a Hall of Famer, his many victories including three in the Belmont – one with the filly Rags to Riches, one with Dogwood in Palace Malice, and one with a partnership that included Eclipse in Tapwrit.
Nest brings all that together in one nice, tidy bow. She’s a filly, trained by Pletcher, and owned by a partnership that includes Eclipse. But Nest – co-owned by Mike Repole and Michael House – isn’t in the Belmont just because of those stars aligning.
Nest, second most recently in the Kentucky Oaks, unquestionably has the most Belmont-centric pedigree of the eight runners in the 1 1/2-mile race. She’s by Curlin, the two-time Horse of the Year who lost a narrow decision to Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont and sired 2013 winner Palace Malice, and out of a mare by A.P. Indy, who won the 1992 Belmont en route to that year’s Horse of the Year title.
“Her endurance influence has always been front of mind,” said Wellman, who said from the time Nest began training, “she exhibited brilliance on occasion and showed stamina was no issue.”
Nest’s early 2022 campaign was designed with the Kentucky Oaks as a focal point, and she tuned up for that with a victory in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland. Since the Oaks, “she’s done exactly what we wanted to see to consider her for the Belmont,” Wellman said.
“Even though this is a filly versus the boys in the Belmont, in my mind there’s not a lot unconventional to this filly running in the Belmont,” Wellman said. “We all feel comfortable.
“She has a tremendous foundation. With a lot of horses in the race, the question is: Will they get the distance? There’s no doubt in our minds she’ll see out the trip. We’re confident in that element of this endeavor. Whether she’s good enough, she’ll have to prove that. Looking objectively, this is a wide-open Belmont.”
By contrast, Wellman acknowledges that Aloha West will have to run the race of his life to beat favorites Flightline and Speaker’s Corner in the Met Mile. Aloha West, who followed 2019 Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Sharing as Breeders’ Cup winners for Eclipse, is stretching out to a mile, but the Met being a one-turn race makes it appealing for a late-running sprinter.
“We’ve always been intrigued about stretching him out a little, and the one-turn configuration of the Met should play to his strengths,” Wellman said. “There’s no question if Flightline and Speaker’s Corner show up, they’re really going to be tough. But if our horse appreciates the distance and configuration, we’re quietly confident he might make some noise.”
With Aloha West in the Met Mile, and Nest in the Belmont, Eclipse is in the two biggest races of the day on the biggest day of racing in New York.
“We’re sportsmen,” Wellman said. “We want to support the industry we love so much.”