Keeneland presents American Graded Stakes Standings: Eclipse Strong From the Gate
About this time last year, Aron Wellman was preparing to resign as vice-president at Team Valor International. He didn’t have a plan for what might be next.
“I realized I needed to figure out a way to make a living, and I didn’t want to go back to practicing law,” the 34-year-old attorney said.
Those who knew him well could make an educated guess at what might lie ahead. One of them, Lee Midkiff, with whom Wellman had developed a relationship at Team Valor, approached him about starting a new racing syndicate. By August, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners was off and running, and on October 11, 2011, the partnership scored a victory with its first-ever starter.
Last Friday, 3-year-old filly In Lingerie captured the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico, giving her and the 9-month-old partnership a second graded stakes victory.
Eclipse’s early success is hardly surprising. The son of longtime Thoroughbred breeders and owners, Michael and Cory Wellman, Aron Wellman worked the backsides of Southern California racetracks beginning at age 8. He learned horsemanship from the likes of trainer Jude Feld and jockeys Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Delahoussaye.
In his first foray into horse ownership in 2002, Wellman claimed a 4-year-old gelding for $32,000 at Santa Anita. A month later, the horse won a first-condition allowance race by five lengths. His initial partnership, LGL Racing, boasted a win percentage above 25% over a three-year period. That would catch the eye of Team Valor President Barry Irwin, and Wellman’s next three and a half years would culminate in a Kentucky Derby victory by Animal Kingdom.
“Barry is unquestionably one of the most innovative and open-minded horsemen in the world,” said Wellman. “Being able to work side-by-side with Barry and being able to campaign major horses in many divisions really broadened the scope of my personal perspective on how to build a racing stable and then how to manage it to maximize each horse’s potential.”
Eclipse’s philosophy starts with the idea that a good horse can come from anywhere at any time. Wellman discovered In Lingerie winning a maiden race at Turfway Park on Jan. 14, 2012.
“With all due respect to Turfway Park, you’re not likely to find your next superstar breaking her maiden at Turfway in January. But she caught my eye because of her pedigree (Empire Maker out of a Storm Cat mare) and what I saw in that race.”
By the next morning, Wellman was in negotiations with the owner and had signed a contract even “before the Ragozin Sheets number had come out on the filly.”
After In Lingerie won the Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway in March, Wellman and partners wanted to find out how she might perform against bona fide graded stakes-quality fillies on the dirt. They eventually settled on the Black-Eyed Susan instead of the Kentucky Oaks, due to In Lingerie’s lack of dirt experience.
“I’m still in awe of what she was able to overcome to win that race,” Wellman said of the Black-Eyed Susan. “Any of the five troubles she encountered at a mile and an eighth, horses just don’t do that every day. I really believe it was an extraordinary performance on her part.”
As for her future plans, Wellman said In Lingerie is likely headed for a two-race campaign at Saratoga, with the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and an Eclipse Award for Eclipse as long-term goals.
In addition to In Lingerie, Eclipse has other runners knocking on the graded-stakes door. Byrama has finished in the top three in two turf Grade 3′s this year in Southern California. Sweet Cat captured third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies behind Stephanie’s Kitten last November. Eclipse recently purchased a 2-year-old Elusive City filly named Judy In Disguise in England. The plans are to keep her there and possibly run in a Group 3 at Royal Ascot, which would be the partnership’s first international starter.
“We want to provide our people with those types of experiences,” said Wellman. “But we’ll only show up if we have a legitimate shot in the race. There’s always that fine line between maximizing the potential of your horses and providing partners with the highest-quality racing experiences.”
Eclipse recently formed a new venture with Dogwood Stable, creating an intriguing partnership between an up-and-coming ownership syndicate and one of the forefathers of the concept. Founding partner Lee Midkiff serves as chairman for Eclipse, and the young company has added TVG host Christina Olivares as Director of Partner and Media Relations.
While Wellman’s first partnership had a narrow focus – importing fillies from Europe – he wants Eclipse to be more flexible, with an eye on all of the divisions that point to the Breeders’ Cup.
“Our goal is not just the first Saturday in May but to compete every Saturday and Sunday in major races.”
Wellman’s eye for horses helps drive the company, but he’s also quick to point he couldn’t succeed without his team and the people who invest in the horses.
“Without those people, there would be no Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. I’m humbled to win a race as historic and prestigious as the Black-Eyed Susan, but going hand-in-hand with that is the appreciation for the support of our partners.”