MAC DIARMIDA STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 ⅜ MILES
West Point Thoroughbreds' Twilight Eclipse opened his 2014 season with a nice victory in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park, proving best by a determined one-length margin. Now a four-time stakes winner, the Tom Albertrani-trained gelding was ridden by Jose Lezcano.
Twilight Eclipse established a new world record when capturing the 1 ½-mile Pan American on Gulfstream's turf last year, but his connections are aiming higher than a title defense in the March 29 feature. They plan to be in Dubai for the $5 million Sheema Classic on the same afternoon.
"We're all talking about going to Dubai with him," Albertrani said. "We got the invite to go, depending on the outcome today. I think that's the way we're going to go."
Favored at 7-5 in Saturday's nine-horse field, Twilight Eclipse paid $4.80 to win.
Alpha flashed speed at the break of his turf debut, showing the way into the first of three turns in the 1 ⅜-mile turf affair, and the Grade 1 winner established splits in :25 ⅖, :49 ⅘ and 1:15 ⅗ on a clear lead. Twilight Eclipse settled into a prime position, stalking the pace in third, and began to advance forward upon reaching the final turn.
Lezcano asked for run entering the stretch drive and Twilight Eclipse quickly struck the front in authoritative fashion. Amen Kitten and Slumber tried to reel in the leader in deep stretch. but Twilight Eclipse was never seriously threatened as he held sway to the wire.
"I got a very good trip," Lezcano said after enjoying clear sailing the entire way. "I got the position that I wanted behind the two horses with speed. I waited as long as I could and when I asked him he gave me a strong run."
Twilight Eclipse completed 11 furlongs in 2:15 on the firm course.
Amen Kitten offered a solid late run for second, a neck better than Slumber, who experienced a less-than-favorable trip in traffic before winding up third.
Suntracer, Alpha, Mucho Mas Macho, Bingo Bango Bongo, Cozy Kitten and Dashing David rounded out the order of finish. Micromanage, who was entered for the main track only, remained in the barn.
"We were in a good spot," Albertrani said. "I just wanted [Lezcano] to ride with confidence, let Alpha go if he wanted to go and put yourself in position. Ride with confidence, take him back where his normal running style would be, and go from there.
"Did you see when he came back? He couldn't pull him up. This horse, just never gets tired. The longer the better. That's the whole key with him."
Twilight Eclipse registered his first stakes victory in the 2012 edition of the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight and opened last year with a fourth in the Mac Diarmida. He then rolled to a four-length decision in Pan American, stopping the teletimer in a sizzling 2:22 ⅗.
The bay son of Purim went on to post runner-up finishes in pair of Grade 1 events last season, the Man o' War and Sword Dancer, and was beaten only 2 1/4 length when sixth in his penultimate start of 2013, the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Twilight Eclipse entered the Mac Diarmida off a seven-length romp in the off-the-turf W.L. McKnight on December 28.
"He seems like he's matured quite a bit," Albertrani said. "He seems like he's filled out some this year. Hopefully, we can have another big year ahead of ourselves."
Twilight Eclipse has now earned $712,786 from a 15-6-2-1 career record.
Bred in Kentucky by Epona Thoroughbreds, Twilight Eclipse sold for $1,000 at the 2010 Keeneland January sale. He is out of the Twilight Agenda mare My Twilight Dancer, which makes him a half-brother to Grand Contender, winner of the Delta Mile Stakes on November 23. This is also the female family of Grade 2 hero and multiple Grade 1-placed Slavic.