In a race that was filled graded stakes winners and proven graded stakes competitors, it was West Point Thoroughbreds’ Twilight Eclipse, with just two career wins in five lifetime starts, that proved 1 ¾ lengths the best in the $150,000 Grade 2 W. L. McKnight Handicap at Calder Casino & Race Course on Saturday.
Ridden from post seven my Manoel Cruz, Twilight Eclipse wasted little time establishing early position in the McKnight, settling in second and spying every move made by the early pacesetter Ioya Bigtime, a gate-to-wire winner of the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Kentucky Downs just two starts ago.
“I knew the horse I wanted to follow around and that was the number one horse,” Cruz said. “And once I got in behind him, my horse settled so nice.”
Ioya Bigtime opened up a clear lead on his rivals, galloping along easily up front while holding a 4 ½-length advantage on the field through a mile that went in 1:37.73. But that margin would soon diminish as Twilight Eclipse advanced on the leader with a steady drive, seizing control of the race at the head of the stretch before drawing clear of a late-charging Mucho Mas Macho to prevail, running the 12-furlong trip in 2:26.71.
“We had such good position through the whole race and I just waited,” Cruz said. “And when I wanted to go, he just took off for me and he finished so, so strong.”
Trained by Tom Albertrani, Twilight Eclipse paid $24.80, $12.40, and $4.60 for the win. Mucho Mas Macho brought back $28.60 and $9.40 for second, while Vertiformer returned $6.80 when third.
Completing the order of finish was Ioya Bigtime, Prince Will I Am, Manchurian High, Center Divider, and Forte Dei Marmi.
Bred in Kentucky by Epona Thoroughbreds, Twilight Eclipse sold for $1,000 at the 2010 Keeneland January Yearling Sale. The son of Purim, out of the Twilight Agenda mare My Twilight Dancer, is a now a three-time winner in six starts, with lifetime earnings of $147,111.
Two races after Twilight Eclipse stood victorious following his W. L. McKnight Handicap triumph, two horses shared the winner’s circle spotlight as Bruce Hollander and Cary Shapoff’s Csaba and Shivananda Racing’s Ducduc dead-heated for the win in the Grade 3 Fred W. Hooper Handicap.
Ridden by Luis Saez, Csaba made all the running in the 1 1/8-mile race, holding a firm lead on his rivals through splits that went in :24.29, :48,80, and 1:13.01.
Much like in his Tropical Park Derby score, Csaba sprinted confidently clear of his rivals in mid-stretch, but unlike that race, in which a host of 3-year-olds were in pursuit, Csaba could not turn back the late-charge of the 6-year-old veteran Ducduc, as the pair drew on even terms in the final yards, throwing their noses down on the wire in tandem, stopping the timer in 1:52.93.
“I tried to ride like last time when I came from just off the pace, but there wasn’t any speed, and he broke great so I had to go,” Luis Saez, rider of Csaba said after the race. “But when he’s all out there by himself, he isn’t himself; he waits for the other horse.”
“I knew I was making up a lot of ground on him, but when I came to the other horse, the other horse was still game,” Orlando Bocachica, rider of Ducduc, said. “I knew it was close. I wish it was just me, but it still feels good.”
Csaba, trained by Phil Gleaves, paid $2.10, $2.10, and $2.10 for his share of the victory, while the Shivananda Parbhoo-conditioned Ducduc returned $2.60, $3.40, $2.40. It was 7 ¼ lengths back to Fair Whit, who brought back $5.20 in third.
Completing the order of finish was He’s Spectacular, Two Is to Many, and Decaf Again.
Csaba is now a six-time winner in 15 starts with earnings of $252,525, while Ducduc has prevailed in 10 of 38 outings with a bankroll of $306,174.