Unheralded Medici Code got the stalking trip trainer Darrell Vienna was hoping for in the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) for 3-year-olds, and the result was a convincing 1 1/4-length victory over a solid field on the Del Mar turf Aug. 11.
The Great Britain-bred was a tough-luck loser in his last start, a division of the opening day Oceanside Stakes July 18, when stuck on the lead and tagged in the final strides by a head by Knockout Artist.
With journeyman rider Martin Pedroza aboard for the first time and carrying a light impost of 115, Medici Code raced in third behind a slow pace. Interestingly, the eight-horse field ran 2x2x2x2 down the backstretch and into the final bend as Latin Rhythms and second-choice Ten a Penny set a dawdling pace. Swinging around the turn for home aggressively, Medici Code was taken three wide to arrive at the head of the stretch in good position, eventually seizing the lead past the eighth pole from the stubborn front-runners. He finished as much the best while completing the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42 2/5 on firm going.
“The boss just told me to ride him away from there, to just let him do his thing," Pedroza said in reference to Vienna. "I was expecting to be nearer the front, but the way it came up I was sitting in behind the speed in the perfect spot. I loved it.
"He’s developing and he’s getting stronger and better," he said of Medici Code. "And he’ll go farther. No problem.”
Vienna said Medici Code, a chestnut gelding by Medicean, would probably be pointed to the $400,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) at nine furlongs Sept. 2.
"The Del Mar Derby probably will be his next start, but it doesn’t have to be that because he trains so well on Polytrack," Vienna said. "Not going in the Derby is probably against conventional wisdom, but we’ll see.”
Worldly, the 9-5 choice, finished the best of the rest under Michael Baze to get second. It was the first loss in four U.S. starts for the Great Britain-bred Selkirk gelding who came into the race following back-to-back grade III wins over the Hollywood Park turf for trainer Ben Cecil. Worldly edged Latin Rhythms and Jose Valdivia Jr. by a head, with Ten a Penny slipping to fourth, a nose behind Latin Rhythms under Joe Talamo after helping carve easy fractions of :25 1/5, :50 2/5 and 1:14 2/5.
Besides the Oceanside defeat, Medici Code has had only one other prior U.S. start, that coming in April in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) when finishing sixth of 10 behind the victorious Tiago. Before that, he raced in England for trainer Henry Morrison. All three of the chestnut's previous wins were on synthetic tracks at Southwell and Wolverhampton. Owned by Herrick Racing, Medici Code has now won four of nine races lifetime with earnings of $121,689. The winner's share Aug. 11 was $90,000.
"I think he was unlucky not to win his division of the Oceanside," Vienna said. "In England, he ran behind horses that were of less caliber than him, so maybe that’s the way he wants to run. He looks like a stalker-type. I knew the pace was going to be slow, so it wouldn’t have surprised me to see him on the lead. His training here has been extraordinary on both surfaces, but he’s been a little more brilliant on the Polytrack."
Sent off as the fourth choice, Medici Code paid $12.40, $6.40 and $3.80. Worldly returned $3.60 and $2.60. Latin Rhythms was $3.40 to show.
After Ten a Penny came the Swiss-bred Karazi, Irish-bred Vauquelin, Unusual Suspect and Irish-bred Star Inside. Dilemma scratched.