01/08/2014 1:09PM

2013 Eclipse Awards: Secret Circle

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photo by: Barbara D. Livingston

If anyone had mentioned in early October that Secret Circle would be among the three finalists for an Eclipse Award as the nation's top sprinter in 2013, even his trainer, Bob Baffert, likely would have scoffed at the suggestion.

But after a whirlwind 18 days that culminated with a game victory in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Secret Circle had risen from out of nowhere to take his position among the upper echelon of the division.

A series of maladies and setbacks prevented Secret Circle, a son Eddington, from racing after his second-place finish in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 14, 2012, until he walked into the starting gate for an allowance race at Santa Anita 18 months later.

But under Baffert's expert tutelage, Secret Circle not only made his comeback a winning one off the extended vacation but also shaded 1:08 for six furlongs with Martin Garcia aboard while earning a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure.

Secret Circle emerged from his first start in a year and a half none the worse for wear. Baffert then consulted with the colt's owners, Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman, the same threesome who owned 2007 Sprint champion Midnight Lute. They promptly gave Baffert the go ahead to bring Secret Circle back in less than three weeks in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"When he got back to the winner's circle after he won that first race, he wasn't really tired," Baffert said. "And Martin said to me, 'Now he's ready.' So, the boys said, 'Let's take a shot [at the Breeders' Cup].' "

Despite having only one start under his belt in more than a year and a half, Secret Circle was sent off as the 5-2 favorite in the Sprint and delivered as advertised, albeit not without a few anxious moments along the way. Secret Circle raced in and among horses while within easy striking distance of the leaders during the early stages of the Sprint, only to get shuffled back briefly in traffic on the turn.

Garcia had to angle him about six wide turning for home to find clearance. Secret Circle then finished full of run down the center of the course to register a courageous neck decision over Laugh Track.

The win was the second in the Breeders' Cup for Secret Circle, who had won the Juvenile Sprint two years earlier.

"It took a great horse to do what he did," Baffert said immediately after the Sprint. "Only certain horses like Midnight Lute or Secret Circle could pull something off like this, overcoming that kind of a trip going six furlongs, especially coming off the kind of layoff he'd had, with the bounce factor and all that."

Secret Circle, who has never finished worse than second in nine career starts or lost a race in five tries at distances of six furlongs or less, earned $859,800 for his two victories in as many starts in 2013, increasing his lifetime winnings to almost $1.9 million.