Eclipse Thoroughbreds Partners' Illuminant, typically a nervous filly, settled well on Memorial Day to take her first graded stakes victory in the G1 Gamely at Santa Anita. Masterfully ridden by Flavien Prat, the 4-year-old daughter of Quality Road crossed the wire just over a length in front of the heavily favored Wekeela, marking a final time of 1:48.34 for nine furlongs over the firm turf course.
“I expected to be that close to the pace,” said Prat. “Fanticola was the only speed in the race so I knew I needed to be right there. My filly has speed too, so I knew it would be ok. I think she improved off her Jenny Wiley (Grade I, 1 1/16 at Keeneland April 16) third place finish in her last out. The turf is a bit softer here and that's maybe better for her, especially going a mile and an eighth. And here at Santa Anita I feel it's better if you're closer to the lead. At Keeneland, it's a bigger turf course and when you come from off the pace there, it's easier.”
Most recently third behind turf star Tepin and Wekeela in the Coolmore Jenny Wiley, Illuminant was able to relax better on her home turf for trainer Michael McCarthy, despite acting up a bit in the paddock. Prat convinced his filly to take back off of front-runner Fanticola in the early part of the race, avoiding fighting her through the first quarter in :24.00. Shifting Illuminant out to a clear path on the backstretch, Prat tracked Fanticola through the half-mile in :48.04 as the latter opened up several lengths. Those two were tracked by Nancy From Nairobi and, several lengths back, Wekeela near sixth position.
In the far turn, Weekela ranged into contention along the outside as Illuminant inherited the lead, but Keri Belle was also making a late run. At the head of the lane, Illuminant held a one-length advantage, and Prat had rationed her speed so well that she was able to maintain that lead throughout the length of the stretch, despite Weekela's game efforts to finish second. Elektrum was making up a lot of ground late and just overtook Keri Belle by a nose for third.
“It's pretty exciting to win a race like this,” said McCarthy. “I thought she would run well today. She's a very honest filly, tries hard and I thought the mile and an eighth would be right up her alley. Fanticola is a very tough mare and I was just kinda hoping we would have enough to get to her. Luckily today, we did.”
Bred in Pennsylvania by Sycamore Hall Farm, Illuminant was initially a $32,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September Sale. Pinhooked through the Ocala Breeders' Sale of 2-year-olds in training, she brought $180,000 from the Eclipse partners. Having taken her first graded stakes at the sport's highest level, Illuminant's career record now stands at 4-2-1 from 11 starts, with earnings of just under $370,000.
“First of all, all the credit has to go to this man, Michael McCarthy,” said Aron Wellman, the west coast representative of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. “This filly is high maintenance and he's done a great job. She ran her heart out last time at Keeneland (when third, behind winner, Tepin and runner-up, Weekela). Winning big races like this at Santa Anita and other tracks around the country is what it's all about. Without our partners we wouldn't be able to do this.
“We're a Todd Pletcher organization, he's our main man. As a disciple of Todd's it just made all the sense in the world for us to support Michael (McCarthy) when he hung up his shingle to go out on his own and I couldn't be happier for him and his family. He's got about five or six for us now.”
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