01/05/2018 1:20PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Caledonia Road

Barbara D. Livingston
Caledonia Road

For Caledonia Road, an Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old filly of 2017 is not guaranteed, but it’s pretty darn close to it.

Of the first 33 winners of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, an overwhelming 29 went on to be voted champion 2-year-old filly. (She’s a Tiger, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2013, finished first in the Juvenile Fillies, but was disqualified and placed second for interference.)

Caledonia Road joined the heady ranks of 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winners with a dominating 3 1/4-length score under jockey Mike Smith. In a sense, Caledonia Road’s late charge in the Juvenile Fillies was emblematic of her 2017 campaign as a whole. She only made her debut on the penultimate day of the Saratoga meeting, and won off after showing good positional speed going seven furlongs in the slop.

That debut effort was impressive enough for trainer Ralph Nicks to wheel her back in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont Park. Caledonia Road took a major step forward and turned in a terrific effort, finishing second, eight lengths clear of third. Unlike in her debut, she employed the deep-closing style she used to such great effect in the Breeders’ Cup.

:: PEGASUS PLAYER'S PACKAGE: Save on PPs, Clocker Reports, Pace Projectors, and more!

Initially, the thought was to reserve Caledonia Road for the one of the late-season 2-year-old filly route stakes, such as the Golden Rod or the Demoiselle. But her connections instead sent her to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup, and Caledonia Road rewarded her people’s faith, taking another significant step forward in what was her first attempt around two turns and winning in virtual isolation.

A daughter of Quality Road-Come a Callin, by Dixie Union, Caledonia Road was bred in Florida by the Vegso Racing Stable. Luke Paiement’s Zoom and Fish Stable purchased Caledonia Road for $140,000 at the 2016 Keeneland September yearling sale, and raced her with Charlie Spiring for her first two starts. Maurice and Samantha Regan’s Newtown Anner Stud joined the ownership group before the Breeders’ Cup.

Caledonia Road’s Juvenile Fillies victory was an emotional one for trainer Nicks, and not only because it marked his first Breeders’ Cup win and, possibly, his first champion. Nicks is no stranger to important horses. As a top assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott during the 1990's, he had hands-on experience with such major horses as Cigar and Paradise Creek. But some five years ago, before he made what proved to be a career-making decision to stable year round at Gulfstream Park, Nicks was scuffling, and seriously considered quitting training.

“I’d pretty much had it,” Nicks told Daily Racing Form the day after Caledonia Road’s Breeders’ Cup win. “So, to be here right now enjoying this after where I’d been, it’s an unbelievable experience.”