By Meredith Daugherty BloodHorse

When Aron Wellman watched a feisty Curlin  filly named Point of Honor break her maiden by six lengths in her debut at Gulfstream Park in December, the owner of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners was impressed.

Intrigued by the juvenile’s talent, Wellman contacted Stetson Racing’s John Connelly, who had purchased the filly privately as a yearling, and asked whether he could buy in. Having owned and campaigned another daughter of Curlin in multiple grade 1 winner Curalina, Wellman understood there was something special about the daughters of the perennial leading sire, who stands at  Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms.

Point of Honor, ch, 3/f
Curlin — Zayanna, by BernardiniOwner: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners & Stetson Racing, LLC
Breeder: Siena Farms LLC (KY)
Trainer: George Weaver
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Information provided by Equibase at time of entry.Pedigree Notes
Curlin stands at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms for $175,000 (2019).Sale History
KEESEP2017 • ($825,000 RNA) • Consignor: Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.

“After her first race we jumped in, and I’m very grateful to John for allowing us to become part of the ownership group with this filly,” Wellman said.

Three starts later on a sunny May 17 afternoon in Baltimore, Wellman’s instincts were confirmed when Point of Honor surged in the stretch to win the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) at Pimlico Race Course.

Breaking from post 7 in the eight-horse field under Javier Castellano, Point of Honor settled second to last just ahead of Off Topic. Assuming the early lead was Cookie Dough, who took control of the pack and set fractions of :23.35, :47.02, and 1:10.81 through six furlongs.

Point of Honor advanced four deep as they exited the far turn, slowly chipped away at her competition, and gained enough ground to come on even terms with the leader just before the eighth-pole. Taking command as Cookie Dough drifted from her spot on the rail and began to wilt, Point of Honor seized her opportunity to lead under urging from Castellano.

Her margin tenuous and only yards left to the finish line, Point of Honor dug in to fend off a last-minute challenge from Ulele on her inside and prevailed by a half-length. Final time for the 1 1/8-mile dirt test was 1:47.88—just off the stakes mark set by Hall of Famer Silverbulletday in 1999.

“She’s a filly that likes to be in a high cruising speed, be in a rhythm, and we were OK with her being outside today,” Wellman said. “But she’s a big filly with a long stride, and we didn’t want to disrupt her rhythm. So when I saw :23 and change and :47 and Javier had a good hold on her on the outside in the clear, I was pretty confident.

“Down the lane, I thought she would put them away with more ease, but Brad Cox’s filly put up a heck of a fight. A lot of credit goes to (Ulele). She really made our filly run to the wire. It was a hell of a horse race, and we’re just fortunate to come out on top.”

It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Cookie Dough in third, followed by Brill, Off Topic, Always ShoppingLas Setas, and Our Super Freak.

“Today she placed perfect,” said Castellano, who has won the Black-Eyed Susan twice before aboard Keen Pauline (2015) and Stopchargingmaria(2014). “I lost a little ground but had a free trip. I didn’t have to get bounced around with the horses. It was a perfect trip. Outside in the clear, she went by all the horses. That’s what I was looking for today, and we had the best result.”

For Point of Honor’s connections, the Black-Eyed Susan was confirmation of a truth they suspected all along: Their filly was top-level racing material. And while the mantle of Black-Eyed Susans smelled as sweet as any bouquet that comes with winning a track’s marquee race, there was a time when the team dreamed she would be draped in flowers of another variety.

When trainer George Weaver sent Point of Honor out for her sophomore debut in the Feb. 9 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, his filly scored by 2 3/4 lengths and set herself firmly on the path toward the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1). The next target was the March 30 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), a race that offered 100 points to the winner and an all-but-secured spot in the Oaks starting gate.

But a slow break and a tightly packed field worked against Point of Honor in Florida, and the filly did not gain enough momentum to challenge. She finished fourth, and her placing afforded her a total of just 20 points on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard. When the first weekend in May arrived, the tally was not enough to see her into the field of 14. Hope for a mantle of lilies dissipated.

“The Gulfstream Park race was a little odd to us,” Weaver said. “She had some trouble in the first turn and got steadied and ate a little bit of dirt. She just didn’t seem quite as handy or responsive that day. But the track was playing like a conveyor belt—it was carrying the frontrunners, and it was a short run to the wire. So she didn’t really get into gear until inside the sixteenth pole.”

“We really believed in this filly, and things didn’t quite go her way in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, which we thought would be enough to qualify her for the Kentucky Oaks,” Wellman said.

But standing in the winner’s circle beneath the famed Pimilco cupola, her connections taking turns posing for pictures with the winning trophy, the memory of the Kentucky Oaks could have been evaporated like ether in the Maryland sunshine.

“We were on the outside looking in and didn’t get in,” Wellman said, “and here we are today.”

“We drew a little outside today and you lose ground being wide, but I think she likes that kind of trip. Javier rode her as such,” Weaver said. “And she went back to where we were in the first place of wanting to go to the Kentucky Oaks and participate in some of these big races. She’s just very professional, very classy.”

Bred in Kentucky by Siena Farms out of the Bernardini  mare Zayanna, Point of Honor first caught the eye of bloodstock agent Donato Lanni at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, the filly went unsold on a final bid of $825,000 and was later purchased privately on behalf of Connelly.

A daughter of stakes producer Heavenly Cat, Zayanna counts among her siblings graded stakes winners Mr Freeze, Dilemma, and Heavenly Ransom. Zayanna was already a successful producer before foaling Point of Honor, with her first foal, the Lonhro mare Velvet Mood, becoming a black-type winner at 2 in Canada. Her second foal, a Jimmy Creed  gelding named Admiral Jimmy, is stakes-placed. The mare has a 2-year-old Liam’s Map  filly, who was purchased by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong for $500,000 from the Taylor Made consignment to the 2018 Keeneland September sale. She also has a yearling Union Rags  filly and a Curlin colt who was foaled April 26.

Point of Honor has $246,375 from her three wins in four starts.

The Stronach Group reported a record 51,573 people were in attendance on Black-Eyed Susan Day, eclipsing the previous record of 50,339 set in 2017. Reported total handle for the 14-race program was $22.281 million, a 20% increase on the prior record of $19.895 million, also set in 2017.