Wednesday, February 19, 2014

An Exciting Time for West Point

Photo ©Tom Hyland

True thoroughbred racing fans not only know their favorite horses and trainers, they're also familiar with some of the most famous silks worn by jockeys today. Certainly the black and cherry silks of the Phipps family is among the best-known and there's the green and pink of Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss, which has become almost iconic over the past decade, especially when their beloved mare Zenyatta was winning all those Grade 1s. 

Of course, the best way for an owner's silks to be recognized is to have their horses win races, especially graded stakes. With that in mind, I'm guessing that the handsome silks of West Point Throughbreds - bright yellow with a large black star - will become known to a lot more racing fans in the months ahead.

West Point Throughbreds has been in business since 1991, when it was founded by Terry Finley, a graduate of West Point - the colors of the silks are those of the Army. Finley is the president of this firm and his wife Terry is Chief Administrative Officer. West Point has become one of the most successful firms dealing with racing partnerships; they currently manage equine portfolios for 400 members, representing 80 horses. They work with some of the finest trainers in the business, such as Dale Romans, Tom Albertrani and Craig Dollase and run horses primarily in Florida, California and New York, although you'll sometimes see those yellow and black silks at other tracks in the east and midwest.

I mentioned earlier how an owner's silks will become well known once they show up in the winner's circle; that being the case, West Point Throughbreds is primed for a big year. The principal reason is a five year-old gelding named Twilight Eclipse, a son of Purim, out of the Twilight Agenda mare, My Twilight Dancer. Last year, Twilight Eclipse had a pretty successful year and that's a bit of an understatement. He's a turf specialist and set the world record for one and one-half miles on the lawn at Gulfstream Park on March 23, 2013, winning the Grade 2 Pan American in 2:22 and three-fifths! He then ran second in two Grade 1s in New York, the 1 and 3/8 mile Man O'War at Belmont in July and then another placing in the 1 and 1/2 mile Sword Dancer at Saratoga in August. He ended his 2013 campaign with a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf, defeated by mere two lengths.

This past Saturday at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 2 MacDiarmida Stakes, Twilight Eclipse ran his usual race from coming off the pace and flying past other horses in the stretch. In the past, some of his races were from far off the pace, but trainer Tom Albertrani has done a fine job getting the horse to settle in mid-pack and even press the pace a bit. Once the horse reached the top of the stretch on Saturday, he accelerated and kept his mind to his business, as he prevailed by a length, his time for the mile and three-eighths was 2:15 flat. 

It was a thoroughly professional performance and showed the true nature of this horse, as he just loves the longer distances; it seems the farther he runs, the better he gets. His next race may be in Dubai and after that, there should be the most important turf races on the East Coast, with the Breeders' Cup Turf the ultimate goal. He seems to me to be in even better condition this winter than he was last, so perhaps that elusive Grade 1 victory will finally come in 2014.

West Point had another winner on Saturday, when their four year-old gelding Brokered captured an allowance race at Santa Anita; his time for the about six and one-half furlongs (a Santa Anita specialty) was a splendid 1:11.41. This was the second lifetime win for the horse in nine races, with two seconds and a third; trainer Craig Dollase has done a fine job with this horse.

West Point also looks to have another star on the West Coast, as they recently purchased Anniversary Kitty, a three-year daughter of Tribal Rule out of the Bertrando mare JustAnotherBlonde. Anniversary Kitty won the first race she ran in, a six-furlong turf event on the final Saturday of racing (December 21, 2013) at Hollywood Park. She exploded in the stretch for a very convincing win and was arguably even more impressive in her next race, the one mile turf event, the California Cup Oaks. In that race, leaving the 14th post position, Corey Nakatani - who is clearly one of today's finest turf riders - kept her relatively close to the pace and also kept her from going too wide down the backstretch. At the top of the stretch, Nakatani was forced to take her to the seven or eight path for a clear run at the leaders and she finished up strong, just getting her nose ahead of the third-place horse. The horse that beat her that day was in the number two post position and her victory (at a cozy 65-1) was no doubt due in great deal to the fact that her jockey kept her on the rail as long as possible; clearly Anniversary Kitty had to cover much more ground that race and it's not a stretch to think that had the post positions been reversed, so too the result of the race might have been altered.

After that race, West Point purchased the horse; Craig Dollase, who is the firm's regular West Coast trainer, will continue to train Anniversary Kitty, so there will be a nice continuity. The next race scheduled for the horse will be her dirt debut in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita on March 1; this is a local prep for the Santa Anita Oaks. Looks like an ambitious schedule for the horse, but when you've won your debut and then placed in a marvelous effort in your second race, why not?

So 2014 could shape up to be quite a year for West Point Thoroughbreds. If you don't recognize the yellow and black silks now, you will soon!