01/05/2018 12:16PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Off Limits (Ire)

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A consistent and devastating late kick gave Off Limits three consecutive stakes wins across the nation in autumn 2017 and a place among the finalists for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding turf female of the year.

The defining race was her final start of the year: the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes for fillies and mares at a mile on turf at Del Mar on Nov. 26. Ridden by regular rider Joel Rosario, Off Limits closed from last in a field of 11 to reach the front in the final furlong for a comfortable one-length win.

It was a near-perfect 2017 season for the Mastercraftsman mare, who was bred in Ireland by Carlingford Breeding syndicate and raced for owner Martin Schwartz and trainer Chad Brown.

Off Limits won 5 of 6 starts, with the only blemish a neck loss in the Perfect Sting Stakes at Belmont Park on July 1 in her second start of the year. On that day, Off Limits closed well, but just missed.

In her next start, Off Limits won an optional-claiming race at Saratoga on Aug. 12 and two Grade 3 races at Belmont Park in the fall, winning the Noble Damsel Stakes at a mile on turf on Sept. 23 and the Athenia Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on turf on Oct. 28.

That was followed by a win in the $300,000 Matriarch Stakes at Del Mar. On that cool afternoon, Rosario knew what Off Limits was capable of doing. He led her from an inside position at the back of the field on the turn to a space between rivals in early stretch. Off Limits took off when clear.

“She has a good turn of foot,” Rosario said in the winner’s circle. “I wanted to get my spot and she gave me what she had.”

Prior to the Matriarch, the Noble Damsel Stakes was a particularly eye-catching win. Off Limits was last of five for the first six furlongs and took the lead with a furlong remaining. She drew away to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Sassy Little Lila.

The 2017 season was a contrast to 2016, when Off Limits was winless in five starts, all in Florida and New York, in her first races since arriving from Ireland. By Labor Day weekend that year, Brown and Schwartz decided she needed a break.

“She trained a little better than she was running, and it was frustrating,” Brown recalled after the Athenia.

Brown paid tribute to Schwartz’s long-term hopes for Off Limits.

“We got together and decided to give her an extended vacation and let her acclimate over here,” he said. “He is very patient with his horses and does the right thing with them, and she’s a perfect example of that.”