As we head into the Breeders’ Cup, everyone’s attention will be on California Chrome and Arrogate in the Classic and stars such as Songbird, Stellar Wind, Beholder, Tepin, and Flintshire, and which race Frosted will point for.
While these horses dominate the headlines, we tend to forget or simply overlook those hard-knocking, consistent horses, who do not possess the talent of the major stars mentioned above, but still show up every time, competing at the highest level. These horses always give their all, bringing home checks race after race, while quietly amassing millions of dollars.
One of those horses, Twilight Eclipse, raced in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic last weekend and two, Hoppertunity and Effinex, will face off in Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup. Regardless of the result, none of them will be among the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup, assuming all three show up.
But they still should be admired for their grit and determination and trying hard every time they enter the starting gate. These are racing’s unsung heroes.
Looking back at the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, Twilight Eclipse was sent off at odds of 11-1 in a four-horse field, showing how lightly regarded he was with the bettors. But by finishing third, the 7-year-old gelding, who sold as a yearling at the Keeneland January mixed sale for a paltry $1,000, increased his lifetime earnings to just under $2.1 million.
In 36 career starts, Twilight Eclipse has finished on the board in 23 stakes, including 12 grade I’s and five grade II’s. He’s competed at 10 different tracks in seven states and Dubai, and has been ridden by 11 different jockeys. Despite getting up there in years, he still has managed to finish first, second or third in 15 of his last 19 starts, 10 of them grade I stakes and nine of those against turf superstars Main Sequence and Flintshire.
This is a horse who in his younger days was brilliant enough to set a world’s record of 2:22.63 for 1 1/2 miles, winning the Pan American Stakes by four lengths over the Gulfstream turf. The following year, he finished second to Turf champion Main Sequence in the grade I United Nations Stakes and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, beaten a neck each time, before finishing a close third behind Main Sequence and Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The next year he captured the grade I Man o’War Stakes.
No matter how much longer Twilight Eclipse races, you can be sure he is going to give his all every time, while competing against the best turf horses in the country. He has never ducked a big race, despite the quality of the competition, and is still trying and picking up checks in the best races and against the best horses. There is something to be said for honesty and dependability, and for that alone Twilight Eclipse should be admired.
Looking ahead to the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Hoppertunity travels cross country and goes into the race having finished in the first four in 20 of his 21 career starts. Following a fifth-place finish in his career debut, he’s gone 20 consecutive races without finishing worse than fourth, 19 of those in graded stakes and 10 of them in grade I stakes. In those races, he has competed against California Chrome, Shared Belief, Beholder, Melatonin, Dortmund, Effinex, Mubtaahij, and Noble Bird.
He has traveled cross-country six times, winning the grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, finishing a close second in the Clark and Fayette Stakes at Keeneland, and third in the grade I Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Earlier this year, he traveled to Dubai where he finished a fast-closing third in the Dubai World Cup behind California Chrome and Mubtaahij. He prepped for the World Cup by winning the grade II San Antonio Stakes. He also rallied from 10th to finish fourth in the grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds..
Hoppertunity, who has run a triple-digit Beyer speed figure in his last seven starts, has turned his $300,000 sale price into a huge profit by earning just under $3 million as he heads into the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Also scheduled to run in the Gold Cup is Effinex, who has come a long way since running in New York-bred races over the inner dirt track at Aqueduct before being turned over to trainer Jimmy Jerkens. Since moving to Jerkens’ barn in the summer of 2014, Effinex has run 18 times, finishing on the board in 16 of them. In one of those he didn’t, he inexplicably bolted on the turn in the Brooklyn Handicap and was pulled up.
In addition to winning the grade II Suburban Handicap twice, Effinex has captured the grade I Clark Handicap and grade II Oaklawn Handicap and was second to American Pharoah in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at odds of 33-1. He has defeated Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Tonalist, Santa Anita Handicap and Santa Anita Gold Cup winner Melatonin, and UAE Derby winner and Dubai World Cup and Woodward runner-up Mubtaahij. He’s also finished in the first four in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap, Woodward, and Whitney.
For a New York homebred from a small breeding operation, he has been a great success story, earning over $3 million.
None of these horses are likely to win a Breeders’ Cup race and hardly anyone will be writing about them. But that’s not what they are all about. They are who they are, and can only go out there, major race after major race, and give all they have. Horses like these don’t get the publicity, but are Thoroughbreds in the true sense of the word -- hard-knocking, blue-collar horses who can be counted on every time they go to battle. What is important is how much they are appreciated by their owners and trainers as those checks keep coming in week after week, month after month, and year after year.
It is time racing fans take notice and appreciate the chorus behind the star performers. They are the ones who are the backbone of the show.