HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Trainer Tom Albertrani is following a familiar blueprint when it comes to his older turf star Twilight Eclipse, bringing the gelded son of Purim back to Gulfstream Park to begin his 5-year-old season in Saturday’s $200,000 Mac Diarmida (G2).
“We always had this race targeted,” Albertrani said. “He appears to be training exactly the same way he did going into his last race, so I’m really pleased with how he’s looking and how he’s been training.”
Twilight Eclipse capped last year by going gate-to-wire to defend his title in the W.L. McKnight Handicap (G3) at Calder Race Course on Dec. 28, despite it being moved off the turf to the main track.
In addition to his two wins last year, Twilight Eclipse was second in a pair of Grade 1 races – the Sword Dancer at Saratoga Race Course and the Man o’War at Belmont Park – and was a closing sixth of 12 in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), beaten just 2 ¼ lengths.
“He’s been second-best in a couple of big races, and we were a little unlucky in the Breeders’ Cup. I thought he should have actually finished a little closer that day,” Albertrani said. “I thought he was a little too far back early on in the race, and he wasn’t beaten that far for the whole thing. We were a little disappointed, so it was good to bring him back and end the year with a win. It was definitely a race that we wanted to win again.”
Albertrani hopes not to see Twilight Eclipse as far back in the Mac Diarmida, but will leave the decision up to jockey Jose Lezcano, who was aboard for the McKnight. They will carry 121 pounds from post six.
“A lot depends on the pace scenario,” Albertrani said. “He did it on the front end last time because there was no pace at all. He’s pretty versatile. If there’s no speed he likes to be a little closer; if there’s a strong pace then he’s going to be just a little off of it. This horse’s whole key is his stamina. He’s a mile-and-a-half horse. He loves to run all day.”
The Mac Diarmida will also provide Albertrani with a line on how to map out a campaign for Twilight Eclipse, which could include a trip to the Middle East where the trainer was based with Godolphin Stable from 1995-2003.
“We’re using this race, hopefully, as a steppingstone for Dubai,” he said. “I definitely think he’s a horse that’s going to go on and train well and run well this year. If all goes well and he runs well this weekend, our plans are to take him to Dubai. Depending on everything there, how he ships and runs and comes back, we would like to target similar races that he was in last year, all the big races later on. Everything will depend on the outcome of this week.”
After beginning last year in Dubai, Alpha will make his season debut in the Mac Diarmida. A multiple Grade 1 winner on dirt, the 5-year-old son of Bernardini will be trying grass for the first time in his 20th lifetime start.
“We feel like we’ve always wanted to try the turf,” McLaughlin said. “He’s out of a Nijinsky mare, and there’s a lot of turf in the family. We were able to work him on the turf and see how he liked it. He’s always been good on the lead, and going a mile and three-eighths on the turf, I think he will be on the lead. If he likes the turf, we have a whole new lease on life with him.”
Owned by Godolphin, Alpha will be racing for the first time at Gulfstream. He won the 2012 Travers (G1) and 2013 Woodward (G1) at Saratoga, but has failed to hit the board in nine other starts. He was fourth in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2) to end his 4-year-old season.
Alpha will break from post nine as the 123-pound highweight under jockey Joel Rosario.
“He’s taken a step back from his last Grade 1 win,” McLaughlin said. “He obviously loves Saratoga and we will keep that in mind, but we’ve talked within our camp at different times about trying the turf. He’s just bred so much for it, we thought this would be a great opportunity to try it. If he doesn’t like it we can go back to the dirt, and if it rains he loves the slop. There’s a lot of good reasons to try it.”
Amen Kitten won the Tropical Park Derby at Calder last October before rallying to be third in the Hollywood Derby (G1) on Dec. 1. An allowance winner at Gulfstream on Jan. 16, Cozy Kitten returns to graded competition for the first time since finishing fourth in the 2011 Sir Beaufort (G2) at Santa Anita.
Upset winner of the 2013 Fort Lauderdale (G2) at Gulfstream, Mucho Mas Macho comes back after finishing last of eight in his title defense last month. Grade 1-placed English-bred Slumber also exits the Fort Lauderdale, where he was fourth. Stakes winner Suntracer was seventh of eight in the McKnight for trainer Chris Block.
Bingo Bango Bongo has a 2011 maiden win in seven lifetime starts at Gulfstream and is entered for his stakes debut, while Irish-bred Dashing David will be making his 14th career start and first in North America.
Long Branch Stakes winner Micromanage was entered for main track only.