Aron Wellman admits to being someone who is usually quick to offer a comment.
Yet after watching a filly with a talkative name, he was at a loss for words.
“People who know me, know I’m rarely speechless, but that performance left me speechless,” said the founder and president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. “We’re over the moon about it.”
It was a 3-year-old filly named Speech who bedazzled Wellman with a sparkling, three-length victory in track-record time in the $392,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1), which accounted for her initial graded stakes victory and assured the daughter of Mr Speaker of a spot in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1).
“We’re going to enjoy this one,” Wellman said after the July 11 stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland.
Wellman and his Eclipse partners as well as co-owner Sol Kumin of Madaket Stables and trainer Michael McCarthy all had to enjoy the turn of events that resulted in Speech’s breakthrough victory after four straight runner-up finishes in her four starts since breaking her maiden in December.
“For the last three months we had targeted the (Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select, G3) for her,” Wellman said about a July 10 about-seven-furlongs stakes at Keeneland from which Speech was scratched.
The change in plans for Speech were made after trainer Ken McPeek opted to bypass the Ashland and run his talented 3-year-old filly Swiss Skydiver, who beat Speech by four lengths in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2) in the fillies’ last start, against the boys in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) later in the July 11 card.
That switch worked out Ok for Swiss Skydiver, who finished second in the Blue Grass, but it proved to be a revelation for Speech.
“When we heard Swiss Skydiver was going in the Blue Grass we had to keep the Ashland in mind and it worked out for us. That’s the way it goes,” Wellman said. “The pivot on McPeek’s part may have proven to be an assist for us, but we’ll take it. We’re not going to apologize to anyone for winning a grade 1 stakes. The fact she did it so stylishly and broke a track record speaks to her quality and talent.”
With the Ashland offering 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers toward a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, Speech now has her ticket to Churchill Downs for a famed race Kumin captured in 2018 with Monomoy Girl, who won the Ruffian Stakes (G2) earlier Saturday at Belmont Park. The bay filly now has 160 Oaks points, trailing only Swiss Skydiver.
“Now that we’re qualified for the Oaks, we’ll do what’s best for the horse in terms of getting there,” said Wellman, who was uncertain if Speech would make another start before the Sept. 4 stakes.
As much as Speech’s past performances might have painted her as a bridesmaid coming into the Ashland, her losses were hardly a disgrace, considering she was second to Swiss Skydiver, Gamine and Donna Veloce in her last three starts — and she might be elevated to the win spot in a May 2 allowance optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park if Gamine is disqualified for a positive drug test.
“She’s been knocking on the door and arguably ran into the three best fillies of the generation in her last three starts,” Wellman said.
Speech was the star of the show Saturday as she eloquently pressed the pace of the favored Venetian Harbor and then powered past her in the stretch.
Second by a length after a half-mile in :47.14, jockey Javier Castellano kicked Speech ($10) into high gear at the top of the stretch and grabbed a half-length lead over the 3-5 favorite at the eighth pole. It was no contest from there as Speech added to the sizzling times at Keeneland by crossing the line in 1:41.26 for the 1 1/16 miles, breaking the track record of 1:41.36 set by Seeking the Soul in 2017.
“The lack of Swiss Skydiver in the field made it easier, for sure, but it’s still a grade 1 at Keeneland and there were some very, very talented and accomplished fillies in the field. Some very well-regarded fillies,” Wellman said. “Whoever was going to cross the wire first was going to earn it and I’m glad it was Speech.”
The victory was the second in seven starts for Speech, who has earned $353,840. Bred by Gail Rice out of the Freud mare Scribbling Sarah, she was bought by Eclipse for $190,000 from the SBM Training & Sales consignment at the 2019 OBS March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. She is the first graded stakes winner for her dam, who has also produced an Upstart 2-year-old and Unified yearling, both of them colts.
Ciaglia Racing, Highland Yard, River Oak Farm and Dominic Savides’ Venetian Harbor was second for trainer Richard Baltas. The daughter of Munnings , who was second in the Fantasy Stakes (G3), now has 90 points and is fifth on the leaderboard for a spot in the Kentucky Oaks.
Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Munnings filly Bonny South was fourth in the field of five and has 110 points, good for third on the leaderboard after finishing nearly nine lengths behind Speech.
Speech, b, 3/f
Mr Speaker — Scribbling Sarah, by Freud
Owner: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners (Aron Wellman) and Madaket Stables, LLC (Sol Kumin and Jason Monteleone)
Breeder: Gail Rice (FL)
Trainer: Michael W. McCarthy
Jockey: Javier Castellano
Information provided by Equibase at time of entry.
Mr Speaker stands at Lane’s End for $10,000 (2020).
OBSMAR2019 • $190,000 • Consignor: SBM Training & Sales, agent • Buyer: Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners.
FTKJUL2018 • ($95,000 RNA) • Consignor: Gainesway, agent.
OBSJAN2018 • $65,000 • Consignor: Summerfield, agent • Buyer: First Finds.