After a couple of close tries earlier this year, trainer Ben Cecil warned that Ferneley would win a big race before all was said and done. That day came Aug. 29 when the Irish-bred 5-year-old swept past his tiring rivals to score a convincing 1 1/2-length win in the $238,000 Del Mar Mile (gr. IIT) (VIDEO).
Ridden by Joel Rosario, the well-traveled son of Ishiguru scored his first graded win in the United States since arriving at Del Mar last summer in time for the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT), in which he finished fifth. He drew off from odds-on favorite Monterey Jazz and seven others in the Del Mar MIle, which was his second start back after a three-month layoff.
"He seemed to be just right for this race," Cecil said. "The only instructions I gave the rider were to try to save all the ground he could. Of course, then he was about eight wide going into the first turn because everybody took back. But Joel rode him perfectly after that."
Ferneley, fifth on the outside on the turn, rallied four wide coming into the stretch and powered his way to the front, striding away in the final furlong to win in an excellent time of 1:33.11. The course record for the distance, 1:32.21, was set in this race by Three Valleys in 2005.
"I kept him down inside and was trying to save ground," Rosario said. "I had my eye on (Monterey Jazz). I knew he was the one to beat. I was hoping some of those horses up front would engage him and they did. When I came out and around and I saw him (Monterey Jazz) falling back, I knew I had a big shot."
The Del Mar Mile is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race guaranteeing the winner a slot in the Breeders' Cup MIle (gr. IT) Nov. 7. But Ferneley, who is owned by Silver Springs Stud Farm, isn't nominated and his connections would be required to pay a hefty supplemental fee in order to enter.
The 4-year-old fillies Allicansayis Wow (Garrett Gomez) and Lethal Heat (Alex Solis), took the second and third spots, respectively, while separated by a half-length. The outsider Victor's Cry finished fourth. Allicansayis Wow was covered up in fourth along the inside and rallied between horses to edge Lethal Heat.
It was a perplexing effort from Monterey Jazz, the often brilliant 5-year-old who folded up in upper stretch after getting the lead very briefly and struggled home seventh. Monterey Jazz, sent off at 9-10, was expected to go to the front for David Flores and figured to dictate the way the race was to be run, but he didn't.
Instead, he tracked a sensible pace set by Knockout Artist on the hard Del Mar turf course (:22,78, :46.26, 1:09.57) and gave way when challenged by the filly Lethal Heat in the stretch. Monterey Jazz, who set a course record for one mile at Hollywood Park and won the American Handicap (gr. IIT) over the same course earlier this summer, is now winless in four tries on the Del Mar lawn.
"We're all puzzled at his effort," said trainer Craig Dollase. "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him, he just wasn't the Monterey Jazz we know. David was happy with his spot but when he asked him to run, there wasn't anything left."
The distant second choice in the wagering, Ferneley went off at odds of 5-1 while receiving five pounds from the favored Monterey Jazz, top-weighted at 120 pounds. Ferneley, who won a group III race in Ireland last year, boosted his lifetime earnings to $412,161 with his sixth career victory in 26 starts. Because the Breeders' Cup portion of the purse reverted, the victory was worth $120,000.
Ferneley was coming off a third-place finish to Colonel John in the one-mile Wickerr Stakes July 31, missing the runner-up spot by a neck after enduring a wide trip. That was the first time Rosario had ridden the bay horse. His last victory came in an allowance heat at Golden Gate Fields April 3. Earlier in the year, he ran second in the San Gabriel Handicap (gr. IIT) and third in the San Marcos Stakes (gr. IIT) in back-to-back turf races at Santa Anita, each time losing by three-quarters of a length.
"He ran really wide last time, but maybe that helped him this time," said Cecil, who won his first stakes race of the current Del Mar meet.
Mount Coote Stud and Richard Pegum bred Ferneley from the Pursuit of Love mare Amber Tide. He sold for $94,106 at the Tattersall's Breeze Up Sale in 2006.
Ferneley paid $13.20, $6.40, and $4.60 and the $2 exacta with Allicansayis Wow ($11.80, $7.80) was $145.40. Lethal Heat was $5.80 to show.
Victor's Cry was followed by Medici Code, Becrux, Monterey Jazz, Red Alert Day and Knockout Artist. Temple City scratched.