12/22/2011 2:42PM

Gulfstream: Eclipse candidates have their cases made

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Barbara D. Livingston
Musical Romance, with Juan Leva riding, caps her year with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – One of the hottest contests in this year’s Eclipse Award voting will be for Filly and Mare Sprinter. Legitimate cases can be made for four members of the division, although the prevailing consensus seems to point to (in alphabetical order) Hilda’s Passion, Musical Romance, and Sassy Image as the three top contenders for the prize, all of whose connections are currently stabled in south Florida this winter.

With that in mind, trainers Todd Pletcher, Bill Kaplan, and Dale Romans were given the opportunity to step up on the soapbox and state their cases for why their filly should have her name called when the 2011 Eclipse Awards are handed out in Beverly Hills on Monday, Jan. 16.

Hilda’s Passion won 4 of 7 starts this year, including both the Grade 2 Inside Information, in which she established a seven-furlong track record, and Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie at Gulfstream. Her most important victory came in the final race of her career, the Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga. Hilda’s Passion, a daughter of Canadian Frontier owned by Starlight Partners and Clint Glasscock, banked $509,237 in 2011.

“She was consistently the fastest filly in the division this season,” Pletcher said of Hilda’s Passion, who posted four triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in seven starts this year. “She set a track record here at Gulfstream, and her performance in the Ballerina was arguably the most impressive of the year. Unfortunately her season and career ended after that race, and I hope the voters don’t hold that against her.”

Hilda’s Passion was sold for $1,225,000 to Katsumi Yoshida at the Fasig-Tipton November sale for broodmare purposes this season in Japan.

Musical Romance won 5 of 14 starts and earned more than $1 million in 2011 for owner-trainer Kaplan and his partner the Pinnacle Racing Stable. Her 1 1/4-length victory in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint capped off a campaign that included a win in the Grade 2 Presque Isle Masters and runner-up finishes in the Grade 1 Princess Rooney and TCA at Keeneland.

“Musical Romance dominated the best fillies in the world in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint,” said Kaplan. “She also won the two richest races of the year for filly and mare sprinters, the Breeders’ Cup and the Presque Isle Masters, and earned more money than any other member of the division in 2011. She ran in four graded stakes during the year, was never worse than second, and came within a neck of winning the two graded races she lost. She raced from the start of the year to the end, made more than twice as many starts, 14, as any of the other contenders, and had a record of 5 wins and 2 seconds in her 8 starts at distances under a mile on dirt.”

Musical Romance is currently in training at Calder and expected to make her 2012 debut in the Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint here on Jan. 28.

Sassy Image won 3 of 6 starts in 2011, including the Grade 1 Humana Distaff and Princess Rooney Handicap along with the Grade 3 Winning Colors. She suffered a season ending injury in the Ballerina. Overall, Sassy Image earned $497,747 for owner Jerry Romans this year.

“She was the only one of the top contenders to win two Grade 1 races this season,” said Dale Romans, who trains Sassy Image for his brother Jerry. “She beat Hilda’s Passion easily when she ran her race in the Humana Distaff and defeated Musical Romance giving her seven pounds over her home track in the Princess Rooney. It certainly wasn’t her fault she chipped an ankle in the Ballerina and couldn’t make the Breeders’ Cup.”

Romans said Sassy Image will likely make one start sometime during the Gulfstream meet before heading back to Churchill Downs to defend her title in the Humana Distaff.

Allowance sprints enliven card

Saturday’s Christmas Eve program not only features the $60,000 Ginger Brew but offers a pair of intriguing allowance races that are also carded for fillies and mares. Post time Saturday is noon.

The third race, to be decided at six furlongs under high-level optional claiming and allowance conditions, drew a field of seven topped by the speedy Afleet Lass, R Holiday Mood and D’cats Meow.

The sixth event on the nine-race card will be run at five furlongs over the turf course and brings together a full and well-matched field that includes Inspired, Holiday for Kitten, Indulgence, and Third Chance.