8-Year-Old Twilight Eclipse In Pursuit Of Record Third McKnight Victory

Twilight Eclipse wins the 2013 W.L. McKnight

Twilight Eclipse won his first W. L. McKnight Handicap during his initial season of racing in 2012, when he was a 3-year-old and the race was contested at Calder. The gelding returned to win the following year’s running, and now seeks an unprecedented third victory in the turf marathon at Gulfstream Park this Saturday.

“Eight years old and going for a third win in the McKnight this year . . . I think this McKnight would mean a lot if he were to win it again for a third time,” Twilight Eclipse’s trainer, Tom Albertrani, said. “If you look at him train, you wouldn’t believe he’s a day over 4 years old. He has so much energy to him. It’s just amazing. Luckily we’ve been able to manage his career well — he’s been a sound horse.

“When they are in the barn that long you become really attached to them,” Albertrani added. “I don’t think I’ve ever had one as old as him in the barn. He’s been like an old trooper in the barn and we like having him around.”

West Point Thoroughbreds’ Twilight Eclipse is one of 12 older males entered in a very competitive renewal of the $ 200,000 McKnight (G3), a 1 1/2-mile turf race, which will be run as Race 11, immediately preceding the inaugural running of the $ 12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1).

Twilight Eclipse’s record last year was 1-0-4 in eight starts. He’s lone win came in an 11-furlong allowance race at Belmont Park. On four occasions, he finished third in graded races, including a pair grade 1s, the Sword Dancer and Turf Classic Invitational. The McKnight will mark the son of Purim’s first race since finishing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) last November, and his 38th career start.

“He’s run well fresh. There was a time last year where it took him a couple of races to get going — I don’t know if it was age or not,” Albertrani said. “The way he’s been training I think he’s sitting on a good effort.”

For the first time Jose Ortiz, a finalist in the 2016 Eclipse Award voting for top jockey, will ride Twilight Eclipse. They will break from post 7.

“The horse needs to be in the right spot,” Albertrani said. “He’s had so many difficult trips where he got into trouble. A couple of times it could have made the difference between winning and losing by a head. He has one steady pace where he just needs to have a good trip, and try to save ground where he can.”

While Twilight Eclipse is a known commodity in the Albertrani barn, the trainer is still getting acquainted with Woodslane Farm’s homebred Sadler’s Joy, a 4 year old making his stakes debut in the McKnight.

A beautifully bred son by Kitten’s Joy out of a Dynaformer mare, Sadler’s Joy has won his last three starts. He started his roll by capturing a maiden race at Saratoga in August, and followed with allowance scores at Belmont Park and then Aqueduct.

“I think he’s a very exciting prospect in our barn,” Albertrani said. “Last year it took him a couple of races to get himself together. But it’s very exciting when you watch this horse run and his late kick. It’s a big step up but we believe the horse has a lot of talent and potentially could be a real useful horse running in these long distance races for us this year.”

Julien Leparoux rides Sadler’s Joy, who drew post 11.

“He has no early speed at all,” Albertrani said. “As long as he doesn’t get himself too far back where there is no pace — he really has a good kick.”

Also entered is Charming Kitten, the defending McKnight champion. Now trained by Mike Maker, Charming Kitten won last year’s McKnight for his owners and breeders, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Saturday’s McKnight will mark the first race for Charming Kitten since an overseas excursion to run in Ireland last year in two races. The 7-year-old was last seen finishing fifth and last in the Irish St. Leger Trial (G3) in August.

Charming Kitten has already proven he can win off the bench, following a lengthy layoff, and he does get the services of stakes rider extraordinaire, Mike Smith, who is in town to pilot Arrogate in the Pegasus World Cup.

Maker has also entered Taghleeb, the winner of the local prep for the McKnight, the H. Allen Jerkens, and Generous Kitten, the fourth-place finisher in in that race.

Never to be overlooked in a turf race is a Chad Brown-trained runner. Mr Maybe represents the newly crowned 2016 Eclipse Award champion trainer. The winner of the 2015 Red Smith Handicap (G3), Mr Maybe won the John’s Call Stakes at 1 5/8 miles last year at Saratoga.

Hunter O’Riley, the third-place finisher in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens, cuts back in distance here, something which should suit the ridgling his trainer, Jimmy Toner, said.

“I actually think a mile and a half will be better for him,” Toner said. “They will string out a little bit more. I think the other day going two miles that most everyone is sitting and waiting and waiting — they don’t come back to you and you need to make that run. We did, but they kept on running in front of him.

“I was very happy with his effort; he always gives you a good effort,” he continued. “He got caught a bit wide around the turn. I don’t know that he would have won that day but he had a chance to be second, anyway.”

John Velazquez has the mount from post 12.

The field is completed by Montclair, Diamond Bachelor, Danish Dynaformer, Applicator and Patterson Cross.

Racing – Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

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