01/06/2015 12:25PM

2014 Eclipse Awards: Main Sequence

Barbara D. Livingston

The sharp bend into the homestretch on the tight Monmouth Park turf course is no place for a horse to hit peak stride while racing wide. What usually happens is this: The horse becomes unbalanced, loses momentum, and lacks time to recover before the finish wire pops up on a relatively short straightaway.

So there, at the quarter pole in the Grade 1 United Nations on July 6 at Monmouth, came Main Sequence revving into high gear. The English import was making his first start since October 2013 and his first start on an American course. He cornered wide into the straight while flashing an impressive turn of foot, driving his lead leg hard into the end of the bend, straightening up without losing any momentum, and finishing off his rivals with a final burst of acceleration.

The margin of victory, a neck over Twilight Eclipse, belied the impressive, athletic nature of the performance. This, the U.N. suggested, might be a special racehorse.

By season’s end, there was no “might” about it.

Main Sequence went on to win the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga, the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont, and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. It was a wonderful campaign, and one that has propelled Main Sequence into consideration for an Eclipse Award as both the champion turf horse and older male of 2014, as well as a finalist for Horse of the Year.

Main Sequence clearly is a worthy candidate. Skeptics might rightly have wondered if the competition in his first three Grade 1s truly was world class, but in the BC Turf, Main Sequence defeated Flintshire, the France-based horse who had finished second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and who went on to score a major win Dec. 14 in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase.

Trained by Graham Motion, Main Sequence, an American-bred son of Aldebaran out of the Pivotal mare Ikat, was bred and is owned by the Niarchos family’s Flaxman Holdings Ltd. Trained initially in England by David Lanigan, Main Sequence rose from relative obscurity to win the first four races of his career and finish second in the 2012 English Derby, but a six-start 2013 campaign produced only disappointment and defeat.

Gelded late in 2013, Main Sequence was sent last winter to Motion, soon contracting a serious illness that delayed his 5-year-old debut until July. But since his return to racing, everything has turned out right.

Main Sequence gathered his quartet of Grade 1s over four different courses, each with its own quirks. And the horse himself is a quirky creature. He does not love shipping, gets hot while being saddled before a race, and has poor gate habits, nearly always breaking slowly. If Main Sequence is allowed to make the lead too soon, he loafs, risking defeat. He is not the sort of horse to rack up large margins of victory, and Main Sequence won his first three in 2014 by a neck, a head, and a neck.

He saved his best, most professional race for his biggest stage last year. With regular rider Rajiv Maragh injured and unavailable, John Velazquez rode Main Sequence for the first time in the BC Turf, allowing his mount to settle near the back of the field after breaking from post 11. Like the elite horse he has become, Main Sequence deployed his first parcel of real energy to gain position midway through the 1 1/2-mile Turf, and turning for home, he unleashed what has become his trademark kick.

The good English horse Telescope had no response to it, nor did Twilight Eclipse, beaten four times during the season by Main Sequence. Flintshire had made the front, but he, too, was no match for Main Sequence, who ran past him to victory – and, quite possibly, a championship.