01/06/2017 12:26PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Lady Aurelia

Coady Photography

The Eclipse Awards are 46 years old this year, and it should come as no surprise that there have been some interesting and distinctive divisional finalists over that time. But Lady Aurelia, a finalist for champion 2-year-old filly of 2016, might very well be the most unique Eclipse Award divisional finalist ever.

Two things distinguish Lady Aurelia in this regard. First, she is alive for North America’s highest year-end honor in the division despite having won only a maiden race in her one start on this continent. Second, Lady Aurelia has already been awarded a 2016 divisional championship, having been named the Cartier 2-year-old filly of the year. She became the first American-trained runner to win a Cartier Racing Award, which were founded in 1991 and are the European equivalent of the Eclipse Awards.

Lady Aurelia, a daughter of Scat Daddy out of D’ Wildcat Speed, by Forest Wildcat, was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Stables, which later joined in her ownership after selling the filly at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale to George Bolton and Peter Leidel for $350,000. And, partnered with the international-racing-minded trainer Wesley Ward, Lady Aurelia did her best in 2016 to shrink the world and blur borders.

Lady Aurelia made her racing debut and her only U.S. appearance in a baby race at Keeneland in late April and made 1-5 look like value in winning in front-running fashion by 7 1/2 lengths.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

From there, it was on to Royal Ascot and the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes, and that is where Lady Aurelia grabbed the collective head of the racing world and shouted, “Look at me!” Lady Aurelia went straight to the front on her 16 opponents and then left them reeling late with a burst of speed that carried her to an astonishing seven-length triumph.

“It was breathtaking from the top,” said Frankie Dettori, who was aboard Lady Aurelia in all three of her European starts. “For a winner to spring seven lengths at Royal Ascot is unbelievable. When I got to the furlong and a half and I asked her to go, she found another gear. I was completely shocked.”

Lady Aurelia’s blockbuster Queen Mary performance earned her a shot against males in the Group 1 Darley Prix Morny at Deauville in August. Once again, Lady Aurelia went right to the front, and once again, she won. This, time, however, it wasn’t a blowout score. Lady Aurelia had to work to prevail by three-quarters of a length. But in some respects, Lady Aurelia’s Prix Morny victory was as impressive as her previous scores, just for different reasons, mainly her display of courage.

“There was a little concern because she stepped in two holes in the last sixteenth,” Ward noted at the time. “Frankie said that’s why she lost momentum. We watched her cool out, and she cooled out fine. It was a good run. I couldn’t be happier.”

Lady Aurelia dodged a bullet in the Prix Morny, but that was not to be the case in the final start of her juvenile campaign, the Group 1 Connolly’s Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket in late September. Lady Aurelia finished third, beaten only two lengths, after setting the early pace. But Lady Aurelia was found to have bled after the race, and not insignificantly, which likely compromised her performance.

In any case, Lady Aurelia returned home to the United States after the Cheveley Park for some well-earned rest and recuperation before gearing up for a 2017 campaign that surely will attempt to blur borders once again.