01/05/2012 1:09PM

2011 Eclipse Awards: Musical Romance

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Musical Romance was a throwback in 2011. She ran, ran, and ran – 14 starts and 5 wins capped by a decisive victory in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint that boosted the Calder-based filly from anonymity to Eclipse Award finalist as outstanding female sprinter. “Not only did she win the Breeders’ Cup, she dominated the race,” trainer and part-owner William Kaplan said. “And every race was better than the one before.” Musical Romance was an unlikely championship candidate at the start of the year. She already had raced 19 times as a 2- and 3-year-old, winning four races and making money the old-fashioned way – earning it by running often. In 2011, she stuck to the game plan and made the first start of an ambitious campaign on Jan. 1. “It’s not because I want her to run,” Kaplan explained. “She tells me she wants to run, she needs to run, and she needs to race.” Kaplan, who owns the filly in partnership with Pinnacle Racing Stable, is always happy to oblige. Musical Romance started the year with a pair of clunk-up fourth-place finishes, and her campaign bogged. Six starts and five months later, she was still winless in 2011. The turning point came May 22, when Musical Romance was reunited with jockey Juan Leyva and shortened to 5 1/2 furlongs for an ungraded stakes at Calder. Musical Romance won by a nose. The light switch went on.

[MORE: Complete list of 2011 Eclipse Awards finalists | Vote for Horse of the Year and win]

Three weeks later, she won another Calder stakes, and Kaplan started to believe Musical Romance could be more than a blue-collar sprinter. He would find out for certain on her home track. Musical Romance entered the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap on July 9 at Calder. She rallied from far back, hit the front in deep stretch, then got collared and missed by a neck.

“That’s when I started thinking Breeders’ Cup,” Kaplan said. Bred in Florida by Ocala Stud and purchased as a 2-year-old for $22,000, the cleverly named Musical Romance is by Concorde’s Tune out of the Slew Gin Fizz mare Candlelightdinner. But she was not Breeders’ Cup-eligible until Kaplan and Pinnacle coughed up a supplemental fee of $100,000.

Musical Romance continued to blossom. She won a minor stakes Aug. 7 at Calder, then ran third in a five-furlong turf stakes that Kaplan used to sharpen her speed.

“Her speed really developed. She started to lay closer and closer in all her races,” Kaplan said. “She has so much confidence in her rider, and he has so much confidence in her.”

Musical Romance won her first graded stakes in September at Presque Isle Downs, a neck victory in the Grade 2 Masters, followed a month later by a head loss in the Grade 2 TCA Stakes at Keeneland.

Sharp form notwithstanding, Musical Romance was a 20.20-1 longshot in the BC Filly and Mare Sprint. She won like she should have been the favorite, splitting horses in the lane and drawing away by 1 1/4 lengths. Musical Romance, a throwback, had saved her best for last, in the 14th start of her campaign. She earned $1,040,734 in 2011 and is expected to race as a 5-year-old in 2012.