Aron Wellman is a West Coast guy. He lives in Rancho Santa Fe, which could only be in California. As a kid, he hung out with Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Delahoussaye. Wellman went to U.C. Santa Barbara, practiced law in L.A. In January, he paused a telephone conversation to interject, “Dolphins, 12 o’clock,” to a companion.
But, thanks to some successful Thoroughbreds owned by the Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners racing partnership he founded in 2011, Wellman might want to develop a taste for crabcakes and Philly cheesesteaks. In 2019, Eclipse campaigned two of the region’s newest racing stars – undefeated now 3-year-old colt Independence Hall with trainer Mike Trombetta and Breeders’ Cup-winning 3-year-old filly Sharing with trainer Graham Motion.
Though they’re in Florida for the winter, the horses have lofty goals for 2020 and Wellman is proud of the Mid-Atlantic connection – which he points out isn’t all that new.
He worked for Team Valor when it purchased a barn at Maryland’s Fair Hill Training Center and shifted the bulk of the stable to Motion for a few years, and was part of the team when Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby-G1 in 2011.
“It’s something that might appear to have popped up out of the blue,” he said, after spotting those dolphins. “The Fair Hill connection happened because of Team Valor . . . but before that I’d heard of it but it was a land far, far away for a kid from southern California.”
No more. Eclipse bought Maryland-bred Sharing at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga yearling sale in 2018, and sought out Motion as a trainer. He’d had several horses for Eclipse, but also won a Breeders’ Cup race with Sharing’s dam Shared Account. Co-owned with Gainesway Farm, Sharing came to Fair Hill in the spring, won a Saratoga maiden race, added Laurel Park’s Selima Stakes and then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf-G1 at Santa Anita in Wellman’s home state.
Meanwhile, back on the East Coast. . . Independence Hall forced his way into the conversation. Based at Fair Hill with Trombetta, the Kentucky-bred won his debut for owners Bob and Kathleen Verratti at Parx Racing Sept. 21 – the day Sharing won the Selima. Wellman was watching, because it’s what you do – or try to do – if you’re running a high-level racing partnership while juggling the weekend activities of two kids under 12.
“I was watching that day because it was Pennsylvania Derby Day and a big day of racing with a bunch of good races,” said Wellman, whose introduction to Trombetta had come about a month earlier via jockey’s agent Ron Anderson when Eclipse bought an interest in the trainer’s 2-year-old filly Remain Anonymous. Anderson’s rider Joel Rosario rode Independence Hall in that debut win, and the agent texted something along the lines of “Mike’s got another runner,” to Wellman.
Wellman reached out to Trombetta, who put him in touch with the Verrattis, who sold an interest to Eclipse, which brought in Twin Creeks Racing as another partner. Like anyone trying to buy racehorses, Wellman utilizes plenty of tools to make decisions but will also go on simple instinct.
“I’m a visual guy,” he said. “I trust my eyes and my gut. That’s where it starts. Independence Hall was bought within 24 hours, so there were no numbers [speed figures] out yet. That allows me to get a jump on some of the competition that might rely on those numbers. Of course, when I cut those deals, I’m more often wrong but we’ve been very fortunate.”
Independence Hall missed an allowance start at Laurel Park Oct. 24 (where he was the 9-5 favorite), when a water pipe along the track apron broke and racing was canceled, but audibled to the Nashua Stakes-G3 at Aqueduct Nov. 3. Sent off at almost 10-1, the son of Constitution won by 121⁄4 lengths in 1:34.66 for a mile and had everybody talking. Nearly two months later, he won his 3-year-old debut on New Year’s Day – dusting five others in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. In mid-January, he was a Derby prospect with 10 points to prove it.
“He’s a special individual, no doubt about it,” said Wellman. “Everybody talks about that ‘it’ factor you try to put your finger on. He’s got it on the physical side. He’s an imposing specimen, so much power in all the right places. . . and he’s just a gorgeous jet-black colt with that blaze that catches your eye. On top of that he’s got a swagger, a confidence, an attitude. He’s got ‘it’ in spades.”
There’s work to be done, but the success proves the racing adage about good horses coming from anywhere. Eclipse bought Grade 1 winners Tapwrit, Curalina and Sharing at auction, and added In Lingerie (a Grade 1 winner), the Grade 1-placed Point of Honor and now Independence Hall among others via private purchase.
“We’re constantly scouring the globe for talent,” said Wellman. “Domestically, abroad, wherever. We’re trying to identify these types of prospects before the rest of the world recognizes how good they are – hopefully.”
Trombetta took his horse to Tampa Bay Downs for the winter, and Motion dispatched Sharing to Palm Meadows – though Eclipse will have no problems traveling.
To any coast.