01/05/2018 1:06PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Talismanic (GB)

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It took one morning of Breeders’ Cup-week training for Talismanic to become a favorite of North American racing photographers. It took two minutes, 26 seconds of Breeders’ Cup racing for Talismanic to become an Eclipse Award finalist with a chance to be named champion turf male of 2017.

If you have caught even a glimpse of Talismanic you know what he looks like. Beautiful, maybe; unusual and arresting, absolutely. A bay horse with a big white face bounded by his eyes on the sides, a pink nose below, and a small strip of bay coat at the foretop. Thoroughbreds bear various sorts of white stockings but few, if any, can match Talismanic’s for scope. Training in rundown bandages, several inches of sock protrude above them, a bizarre sight. The colt, by Medaglia d’Oro out of the Machievellian mare Magic Mission, basically stops traffic.

Nothing got in his way during the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf, though on paper, his form coming into the contest made one wonder, at least ever so slightly, what the horse was doing in the race.

Even with the flashy markings, Talismanic was a 14-1 chance in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and were his trainer named Fandre Abre, he surely would’ve been 20-1 at least. But no, the trainer was Andre Fabre, a legend not just in his native France, but on these shores, too, and while Talismanic’s owner, Godolphin and breeder, Darley, enjoys having Breeders’ Cup runners even if they are not the most obvious contenders, there was something more to Talismanic.

Yes, his five wins from 15 pre-Breeders’ Cup starts included zero triumphs at the Group 1 level. Talismanic’s most important win had come in a not-so-important race, the Group 2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil in July. All 15 races, however, had come in France, a jurisdiction hardly known for the firmness of its courses, and Talismanic’s first start over a firm surface didn’t come until his eighth race. He won it by three lengths. The Prix Maurice de Nieuil, as well, was contested over firm ground, which was especially difficult to find during the 2017 French season.

When you started digging a little deeper, you saw that every time Fabre ran Talismanic on firmer ground – an 11th-place finish in the 2016 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe notwithstanding – the horse won. Suddenly, the whole picture emerged: Improving, well-bred Godolphin 4-year-old that needs firm turf!

For most of us, this discovery came well after Talismanic had crossed the Breeders’ Cup Turf finish a half-length better than Beach Patrol. Getting a lovely ride from Mickael Barzalona after breaking from post 1, Talismanic saved ground most of the trip while showing plenty of pace to keep the leaders well within range. Barzalona, unimpeded, switched out for room in midstretch, and Talismanic, shading 23 seconds for his final quarter-mile, stretched out and caught a battling Beach Patrol.

Barzalona pulled the colt up, rode him off the turf course and back onto the dirt track, and cantered back to the front of the Del Mar grandstand. The throng of photographers stacked around the winner’s circle swelled to near bursting. Here came their idol.