If a time traveler were whisked from the past to the presentation of the Eclipse Award for champion turf male of 2018, and saw that a sprinter took top honors, the reaction would probably run from shock to bewilderment. But such has the landscape changed that Rockingham Ranch and David A. Bernsen’s Stormy Liberal, a speed specialist, earned the statuette.
Since *Iceberg II reigned as the first champion “grass horse” in 1953, and from the institution of the Eclipse Awards in 1971, turf excellence has been synonymous with routing. At times superstar milers would put the long-distance performers in the shade, but all marquee turf performers by definition raced around two turns.
For a turf sprinter like Stormy Liberal to cause a rupture with tradition, two significant developments had to occur. First, the advent of the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) raised the stature of the one-turn dashers, giving them a domestic opportunity to take on top international competition. Still, that alone would not have been enough to overtake the time-honored turf disciplines.
The essential development of 2018 was a negative one, namely the lack of an equally convincing turf performer over a mile or longer. Normally when there’s a substandard American-based division, the Europeans come to the rescue. But even there, 2018 produced an anomaly, Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) winner Expert Eye didn’t have the typically hefty resume from back home, and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) star Enable, being female, did not qualify in this category. Had we had the option existing in 1974, before the turf awards were divided by sex, Enable would probably have emulated Dahlia as champion grass horse.
Instead, Stormy Liberal persuaded the electorate by successfully defending his title in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. Unlike stablemate Roy H, who likewise repeated in the Sprint (G1) on the main track, Stormy Liberal cut it close in all four of his wins last season. His record testifies to his grit no less than his talent.
Claimed by trainer Peter Miller for $40,000 – the only time he ever raced for a tag – in October 2016, Stormy Liberal proved a profitable investment. The dark bay, who had back class as a juvenile when runner-up in the 2014 Cecil B. DeMille (G3), soon returned to the stakes ranks. After a second in the 2017 San Simeon (G3), Stormy Liberal rattled off a four-race winning streak comprising the Clocker’s Corner, Joe Hernandez, Siren Lure, and Daytona (G3). The Santa Anita downhill aficionado was not as happy at Belmont Park, winding up eighth in the Jaipur (G3), and went on a nearly five-month holiday.
As a result, Stormy Liberal was totally ignored at odds of 30-1 in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Del Mar. But he jumped up on the big stage to edge stablemate Richard’s Boy, and surprise a deep cast including European star Marsha and an off-form Lady Aurelia.
Stormy Liberal was unable to pull a similar coup in his venture to Sha Tin for the Hong Kong Sprint (G1), checking in a non-threatening 11th. Yet by going on his foreign junket, he was mercifully spared the ravages of the fire that devastated his San Luis Rey home at the very same time.
Opening 2018 with a second as the defending Daytona champion, Stormy Liberal was off on his travels again, this time to the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on Dubai World Cup night. Down the Meydan straightaway he delivered a fine effort in defeat, missing by a half-length to Godolphin’s well-traveled Jungle Cat while beating the rest of a cosmopolitan field. Jungle Cat himself went on to boost the form in Australia by capturing the Sir Rupert Clarke (G1).
Stormy Liberal resumed in the upgraded Jaipur (G2), again not putting his best foot forward at Belmont with a sixth. He would regroup back in Southern California.
Returning to the Del Mar strip, Stormy Liberal prevailed in a hard-fought duel over Tribalist in a July 25 allowance. That set him up for the August 17 Green Flash, and a redux of the Breeders’ Cup finish, over the same course and distance, in a thriller with Richard’s Boy. Jockey Drayden Van Dyke rode confidently in the belief he had his rival’s measure all along.
Stormy Liberal got up in time to nip another stablemate and frequent foe, Conquest Tsunami, in the September 28 Eddie D. (G3) at Santa Anita.
Although Stormy Liberal entered the November 3 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint as the defending champion riding a three-race winning streak, he rated as a 7-1 shot at Churchill Downs. Partly that was due to questions about whether he’d transfer his form to a yielding course, and partly because of the appeal of sophomore World of Trouble. It turned into a virtual match race in the stretch, as they pulled 7 1/4 lengths clear of Disco Partner, and World of Trouble learned that you just don’t outgame Stormy Liberal in a dogfight.
Bred by Dapple Bloodstock and Gryphon Investments in Kentucky, Stormy Liberal is by Stormy Atlantic and out of the Royal Academy mare Vassar. His pedigree sports the Rasmussen Factor with 4×3 inbreeding to Crimson Saint, ancestress of Storm Cat and dam of Royal Academy. A full brother to Grade 2-placed Coast Guard and a half to multiple Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Shimmering Moment, the $100,000 OBS June two-year-old purchase was originally trained by Doug O’Neill.
Stormy Liberal has compiled an overall record of 31-12-9-1, $1,938,930, including his 2018 earnings of $935,360 from a 7-4-2-0 line. The seven-year-old gelding is already back at the wars. Overturned by Caribou Club in the January 1 Joe Hernandez (G3), he’ll look to move forward in Saturday’s Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint, and a rematch with World of Trouble. Then it’s on to Dubai for another swing at the March 30 Al Quoz.
|TURF MALE||FIRST-PLACE VOTES|
|Expert Eye (GB)||66|
|Glorious Empire (Ire)||43|
|Heart to Heart||12|
|Raging Bull (Fr)||7|
|Robert Bruce (Chi)||2|