When Aron Wellman watched a feisty Curlin filly named Point of Honor break her maiden by six lengths in her debut at Gulfstream Park last December, the owner of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners was impressed.
Intrigued by the juvenile’s talent, Wellman contacted John Connelly of Stetson Racing, who had purchased the filly privately as a yearling, and asked if he could buy in. Having owned and campaigned another daughter of Curlin in multiple Grade 1 winner Curalina, Wellman understood there was something special about the daughters of the perennial leading sire who stands at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms.
“After her first race, we jumped in and I’m very grateful to John for allowing us to become part of the ownership group with this filly,” Wellman said.
Three starts later on a sunny May 17 afternoon in Baltimore, Wellman’s suspicions were confirmed when Point of Honor surged in the stretch to win the $250,000, Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
Breaking from the far outside post under Javier Castellano, Point of Honor settled second to last just ahead of Off Topic. Assuming the early lead was Cookie Dough, who took control of the pack and set quarter-mile fractions of :23.35, :47.02, and 1:10.81 through six furlongs.
Point of Honor advanced four deep as they exited the far turn, slowly chipped away at her competition, and gained enough ground to come on even terms with the leader just before the eighth-pole. Taking command as Cookie Dough drifted from her spot on the rail and began to wilt, Point of Honor seized her opportunity to take the lead under urging from Castellano.
Her leading margin tenuous and only yards left to the finish line, Point of Honor dug in to fend off a last-minute challenge from Ulele on her inside and prevailed by a half-length at the finish line.
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile dirt test was 1:47.88 — just off the stakes mark set by Hall of Famer Silverbulletday in 1999.
“She’s a filly that likes to be in a high-cruising speed, be in a rhythm, and we were OK with her being outside today,” Wellman said. “But she’s a big filly with a long stride and we didn’t want to disrupt her rhythm. So when I saw :23 and change and :47 and Javier had a good hold on her on the outside in the clear, I was pretty confident.
“Down the lane I thought she would put them away with more ease but Brad Cox’s filly [Ulele] put up a heck of a fight. A lot of credit goes to her. She really made our filly run to the wire. It was a hell of a horse race and we’re just fortunate to come out on top.”
It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to Cookie Dough in third followed by Brill, Off Topic, Always Shopping, Las Setas, and Our Super Freak to complete the order of finish.
“Today, she placed perfect,” said Castellano, who has won the Black-Eyed Susan twice before aboard Keen Pauline (2015) and Stopchargingmaria (2014). “I lost a little ground but had a free trip. I didn’t have to get bounced around with the horses. It was a perfect trip. Outside in the clear, she went by all the horses. That’s what I was looking for today and we had the best result.”
For Point of Honor’s connections, the Black-Eyed Susan was confirmation of a truth they had suspected all along: that their filly was top-level racing material. And while the mantle of Black-Eyed Susans smelled as sweet as any bouquet that comes with winning a track’s marquee race, there was a time when the team dreamed she would be draped in flowers of another variety.
When trainer George Weaver sent Point of Honor out for her sophomore debut in the Feb. 9 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, his filly trounced the other runners with a 2 1/4-length win and set herself firmly on the path toward the Longines Kentucky Oaks. The next target on her schedule was the March 30 Gulfstream Park Oaks, a Grade 2 race that offered 100 points to the winner and an all-but-secured spot in the Oaks starting gate.
But a slow break and a tightly-packed field worked against Point of Honor in Florida and fighting to find an opening in the stretch, the filly did not gain enough momentum to challenge and finished fourth. Her placing afforded her 20 points on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard and when the first weekend in May arrived, the tally was not enough to see her into the field of 14. Hope for a mantle of lilies dissipated.
“The Gulfstream Park race was a little odd to us,” Weaver said. “She had some trouble in the first turn and got steadied and ate a little bit of dirt. She just didn’t seem quite as handy or responsive that day. But the track was playing that day like a conveyor belt and it was carrying the front-runners and it was a short run to the wire. So she didn’t really get into gear until inside the sixteenth pole.”
“We really believed in this filly and things didn’t quite go her way in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, which we thought would be enough to qualify her for the Kentucky Oaks,” said Wellman.
Standing in the winner’s circle beneath the famed Pimilco cupola, her connections taking turns posing for pictures with the winning trophy, the memory of the Kentucky Oaks that could have been faded to ether in the Maryland sunshine.
“We were on the outside looking in and didn’t get in,” said Wellman, “and here we are today.”