By Meredith Daugherty BloodHorse
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Martin Schwartz, and China Horse Club’s Valiance lived up to her name Oct. 4 when she ran down Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Shedaresthedevil and held off grade 1 winner Ollie’s Candy to take the $400,000 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (G1) at Keeneland.
Shedaresthedevil broke well and set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile Spinster under Florent Geroux, who was aboard the filly for her Sept. 4 Oaks victory. The pair maintained a one-length advantage along the backstretch and set fractions of :23.62 and :46.97 for the half-mile.
Lady Kate and jockey Tyler Gaffalione pressed the pace in the two path and was within a half-length of Shedaresthedevil as six furlongs went in 1:10.85. Valiance, who rated in midpack through much of the race under Luis Saez, saw an opportunity to take advantage of the tiring leader and swung three wide off the turn.
Running hard outside her foes, Valiance was on even terms with Shedaresthedevil as they hit the top of the stretch and took command by a half-length with the finish line in sight. Not to be outdone, 5-year-old Ollie’s Candy swung into the open three path passing the three-sixteenths pole and rallied.
Shedaresthedevil fought to maintain her position on the inside but lacked the late speed and began to drift back as Ollie’s Candy bore down on Valiance. Saez spurred his filly onward to the wire, and the pair managed to turn back Ollie’s Candy by three-quarters of a length.
“That was the plan to let those fillies go on the lead and see if we can catch them,” said Saez, who won four races on the card. “Everything came so perfect, the way we planned it. When we came to the straight, it was a battle, but she did it pretty good and she fired and won the race. The (fast pace) was the plan. I knew that was going to happen. It was good for us.”
The final time was 1:49.76 on a fast track. Ollie’s Candy was 2 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Shedaresthedevil. Lady Kate finished fourth, followed by Saracosa and Our Super Freak to complete the order.
Shedaresthedevil’s trainer, Brad Cox, said the loss could throw her chances at a start in the Breeders’ Cup into question.
“I am disappointed; she went too fast, too early. She never got a breather,” Cox said. “It was a lot to ask, bringing her back in four weeks (after winning the Kentucky Oaks, G1). And she is a 3-year-old against older fillies and mares for the first time. Now the Breeders’ Cup is a big, big question mark.”
“(I’m) just blown away,” said Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred. “It’s been such an emotional year dealing with the craziest times that the world has seen. We’re just so honored to win a race like this with such a regally bred filly.”
Valiance broke her maiden on debut at 3. She followed with more trips to the winner’s circle in allowance company and then at the stakes level, scoring in the Open Mind Stakes on the turf at Monmouth Park to close her sophomore season.
Returning at 4, Valiance missed the board in her first two starts of 2020 but eventually returned to winning form at Colonial Downs, where she won a July allowance optional claiming race. She returned to Monmouth where she earned another stakes win in an off-the-turf running of the Aug. 29 Eatontown Stakes before making the trip to Keeneland to try her luck in the Spinster.
“We’ve just been waiting and waiting and waiting to swing for the fences with her,” Wellman said. “We started her off last year as a turf filly. She trained well on the dirt all along, but the way things played out schedule-wise, option-wise, we kept her on the turf. She won a stake last year on the turf as a 3-year-old, and we gave her a lot of time to come into her 4-year-old season and we never really ruled out the possibility that she was a good dirt horse.”
“Well, it seemed like she had simply been training better on dirt that she ever did previously,” said Pletcher, who was absent from Keeneland for Valiance’s win Sunday. “When she won her first three starts on the turf, it was logical to keep her on there. But when she didn’t fire her ‘A’ race in the New York (G2T) and kind of had a confidence builder (at Colonial Downs), when the Eatontown came off the turf at Monmouth and she ran … it was very impressive the way she did that that day. That’s when we started thinking about taking a shot in a big one. That was kind of the one thing missing on her résumé was that graded stakes win. With a filly of her quality and pedigree, something like that was so valuable to her, and we felt like in light of how well she was doing, it was worth taking a shot.”
“When she won the Eatontown off the turf in the slop, you know slop isn’t normal dirt,” echoed Wellman. “But it gave us the confidence to take this monumental leap because she was a stakes winner on turf and then she was a stakes winner on dirt. We had nothing to lose by trying to go for the grade 1. We were going for it even though we knew (Midnight Bisou) was pointing for the Spinster, and our hearts go out to the connections of that champion mare since she obviously couldn’t make the race. We obviously felt that much more confident once she was out of the race that we would be live to make some noise.”
Bred in Kentucky by China Horse Club, Valiance is out of the Empire Maker mare Last Full Measure, who put in the best performance of her career at Keeneland in 2013 when taking the Madison Stakes (G1) for trainer Philip Oliver and owner/breeder St. George Farm.
In 2017, Valiance was consigned by Bluewater Sales to the The Saratoga Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s select yearling sale, where she was purchased by the partnership of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Marty Schwartz for $650,000.
Valiance earned an automatic berth in the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) at Keeneland. Though Wellman said he knows the competition is bound to be stiff, he hopes Valiance may finally have found her niche.
“It’s an incredible division this year,” Wellman said. “They lost Midnight Bisou, but you still have Monomoy Girl, who is a Hall of Fame filly in her own right, and the 3-year-old division is incredible. Look right now, we’re just over the moon to have captured this grade 1, a race with such prestige. It’s just so enormous to win this race. We’re so honored.”