Eclipse TB On Oaks Trajectory With Australian Buy

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Pinot winning Wednesday at Flemington | Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

By Alan Carasso

Pinot (Aus) (Pierro {Aus}), the first horse campaigned in Australia by the U.S.-based Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, overcame some anxious moments with 200m to race in Wednesday’s Kennedy Oaks Trial (1800m) at Melbourne’s Flemington Racecourse to draw off by 3 3/4 lengths and set herself firmly on track for an appearance in A$1-million event (2500m) Nov. 9.

Eclipse President Aron Wellman admits that his trip to the 2016 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale in Sydney was legitimately nothing more than a fact-finding mission, a proverbial dip of the toe into Australian bloodstock market. By his own admission, Wellman was there to do window shopping only–that is until lot 267 from the Coolmore Stud draft–failed to attract the attention Wellman thought she should from the buying public.

“When this filly came into the ring, I thought there was very light action during the bidding process,” Wellman explained. “I was standing with [trainer] Gai [Waterhouse] at the time and she knew I was fond of this filly and the bidding was going slow and she was hovering around the A$150,000 level. I felt at that point that there was too much value in her with her pedigree and the type of physical she presented not to throw our hat into the ring.

He continued, “We jumped in on the bidding and it was hovering around A$190,000 and Gai and I turned to each other and we could tell what each other was feeling and we thought, ‘let’s give it one more hit’ at A$200,000 and sure enough, that’s where the hammer dropped. Gai, being the dynamic person that she is, jumped for joy and gave me a big hug and was thrilled that Eclipse had taken the plunge. It’s been a very interesting and educational journey, but to be in this position now and to think she could be this kind of filly is very gratifying.”

Wellman said he valued the assistance of U.S.-based bloodstock agent Marette Farrell, Blue Sky Bloodstock’s Julian Blaxland and Waterhouse stable liaison Su-Ann Khaw on his inaugural Australian foray.

By the Waterhouse-conditioned Triple Crown winner Pierro who stretched out admirably enough to run third in a G1 Cox Plate (2040m), Pinot is a daughter of Dizelle (Aus) (Zabeel {NZ}), herself winner of the 2005 G1 AJC Oaks at Randwick. Pinot’s Group 1-winning second dam Danelagh (Aus) (Danehill) produced Dizelle’s full-brother, Hong Kong Horse of the Year and G1 Dubai Sheema Classic winner Vengeance of Rain (NZ).

Wellman believes that the filly’s longer-winded pedigree turned away some would-be suitors at Easter.

“There has become such an emphasis on precocious, early, fast 2-year-olds and the [Australian] stallion market stresses those traits, so I believe a filly like Pinot was overlooked by the market at the time because she figured to be a later-developing filly that would excel at a route of ground,” Wellman said.

But it was precisely what Wellman was after and knowing what they had, the team took a patient approach.

“One thing that I made clear to Gai and to [co-trainer] Adrian Bott was that we were in no rush,” Wellman said. “We always projected that she would be [the type to come along more slowly]. Gai and Adrian did a spectacular job reading the signs that Pinot was giving us. She just wasn’t ready as a 2-year-old. She was backwards, her body and her mind weren’t quite there. She trialled late in the year, but she sent us the signs that she was going to require more time to come into herself. Gai was phenomenally patient and gave her spell after spell and sent her to the beach and then to the farm. Everyone who had their hands on her did a great job letting her catch up to herself. Gai’s horsemanship has been on full display.”

A debut ninth over 1300m at Bendigo Aug. 13, Pinot finished runner-up at Geelong (1321m) Sept. 3 and back at Bendigo when trying a mile for the first time Sept. 14.

“We gave her a quiet run sprinting to start and we knew that wouldn’t be her thing,” Wellman reported. “It was an ideal introduction to racing. After that, she stretched out and we put blinkers on her and she was an entirely different filly. After her race at Bendigo–she just got beat on the wire–[jockey] Steven Baster thought maybe she was cheating a little bit with the blinkers on and potentially waiting on horses, so we took off the hood and the blinkers.”

Sent off the $5.50 (9-2) second favourite Wednesday, Pinot enjoyed the run of the race, but was stuck inside once into the Flemington straight.

“You could tell that Stephen Baster was completely loaded with a ton of filly beneath him,” Wellman said. “At the eighth pole when he was looking for a seam and got stopped, I thought to myself, ‘It’s unlikely that she’s good enough to overcome that,’ but she sure was. When he redirected her down to the rail and the hole opened up, it was quite impressive and exciting.”

And, after speaking with his trainer, Wellman is riding a wave of optimism with the Oaks on the horizon. Pinot was made the $7 (6-1) ante-post choice following her victory.

“Gai’s confidence in this filly has been booming for the past month or so,” Wellman reported. “From afar, even though she was a maiden through her first three starts, Gai is sending me texts and emails to nominate her for this big race and that big race. She was 100% adamant after her second run that this was an Oaks filly and that she was going to get her to the Oaks. All credit to them for executing an ambitious game plan. She certainly validated Gai’s enthusiasm and conviction [Wednesday]. Last night when I spoke to Gai immediately after the race, her reaction to me was, ‘Wait until we get her to 2000m and beyond.'”

Wellman says that, all being well, Pinot is set for another run between now and the second Thursday in November. Pinot, who is owned in partnership by Waterhouse, Newgate Farm and James Bester, holds entries for the G1 Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m) Oct. 14 and for the G1 Ladbrokes Classic (2000m) Oct. 21, each run at Caulfield. Should she make the gate for the Oaks, Wellman would love to be there.

“It’s taken time for our people to wrap their heads around it, but they’re over the moon with the position we happen to be in and we’d be only too happy to make the trip–with a horse that’s live on top of it,” he said.

Wellman also did not rule out the possibility that Pinot could one day race in the U.S.

“We do have some partners, so it would have to be a team decision, but when Gai and I originally connected, the program that we attempted to execute would be to prove a high-class runner in Australia that warranted consideration to bring her to the States,” Wellman said. “She has plenty of work to do before then and a lot would depend on timing and assessing where her value lies. We’ll have to weigh all variables and we’ll have to huddle up with our partners and decide what’s in her best interests in establishing her ultimate value. But we would certainly love to see that come full circle like that.”

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