Summer Soiree went west in pursuit of her first grade I victory and the front-running favorite had just enough left in the final jumps to nip fast-closing Star Billing and Nereid in the the $250,000 Del Mar Oaks Aug. 20 (VIDEO) .
Gabriel Saez, in his first start at Del Mar, judged the wire just right on Team Valor International's Sumeer Soiree, who won by a half-length. The winner appeared to be in trouble in the final stages as Star Billing, Nereid, and Cambina quickly trimmed what was a 5 1/2-length lead at mid-stretch.
But Summer Soiree responded to the urging of Saez in the final strides to prevail, completing the 1 1/8-mile turf test for 3-year-old fillies in a good 1:46.46 over firm going. Star Billing, ridden by Victor Espinoza, held off Nereid and Joe Talamo by a nose for second.
The final clocking was the third-fastest Del Mar Oaks since the race was switched to turf in 1965.
Graham Motion trains Summer Soiree, who was coming off an 8 1/2-length win in the Boiling Springs Stakes (gr. IIIT) in her turf debut June 25 at Monmouth Park.
The daughter of War Front is out of Mazel Tov (by Mazel Trick). Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones and his son, Bret Jones, Summer Soiree was purchased from them by Team Valor this spring. She ran for her new connections in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) May 6 and faded to 10th after setting the pace. After that, Motion and Team Valor head Barry Irwin decided to switch her to the grass.
In the Del Mar Oaks, Summer Soiree was facing nine closely-matched fillies, most of them coming out of the American Oaks (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, in which the first five finishers were within three-quarters of a length, and the San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) July 24 at Del Mar,
Sent off at odds of 2-1, Summer Soiree broke best toward the inside but allowed a determined Dynamo, leaving from the far outside post, to take over the lead. Dynamo traveled an opening quarter-mile in :23.14 before Summer Soiree cruised past leaving the half-mile point, which they reached in a swift :46.96.
Summer Soiree quickly took command and held a big advantage while stepping six furlongs in a quick 1:10.22. Dynamo was done at that point and Star Billing progressed into second with Neirid and Cambina also advancing. But they were well behind the leader as Summer Soiree reached the eighth pole in 1:34.81.
"I knew we were going a little quick early, but she was comfortable," Saez said. "She handled it all well; she liked the turf. When we went to the second turn, I said it was time to go. That was the plan. I wanted to put some lengths between me and the others. She picked it right up. I knew they were coming (in the lane) but I had to keep riding. I had to get her home. She did it. Thank God"
Espinoza, aboard Star Billing, said he knew they were in trouble when Summer Soiree opened up on the turn.
"I said ‘oh, oh.’ But I couldn’t do anything about it,' he said. "I was down inside and I had to ride my filly the way she wants to run. I had to ride her the way I rode her. She came running. For a second there I thought I was going to get there. But not quite.”
David Rock, assistant to Motion, said Summer Soiree used a similar early burst to get command in the Boiling Springs. "We were hoping she would relax a little bit so he could wait a bit more," he said. But she got pretty headstrong, I guess, so he had to go.”
In four previous trips to the winner's circle, Summer Soiree had won by a combined margin of 35 1/4 lengths.
Her fifth lifetime win in 11 starts boosted her earnings to $357,680. This was Motion's first stakes win at Del Mar for Motion.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Summer Soiree paid $6, $4.40, and $3.80. Star Billing, who missed by a head when third in the American Oaks last time, returned $5.20 and $4.20. The exacta was $33.20. Nereid, dead-heat winner of the American Oaks, paid $4.40 to show.
Cambina finished two lengths behind the winner and was followed by Celestial Kitten, Entrustment, Up in Time, Bizzy Caroline, Singapore Lilly, and Dynamo.