Louisiana-bred mare Happy Ticket, out of the money just once in 17 lifetime starts, leads a field of six to the gate Sunday for the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar.
Among Happy Ticket's 12 victories is the 2005 Ballerina (gr. I), which set her up for a second-place finish beaten by a half-length by champion distaffer Ashado in the Beldame (gr. I). In the only blemish on her record, she finished 11th in the Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) at Belmont Park last year.
In her four outings this year, the bay mare, trained by Andrew Leggio Jr. for owner-breeder Stewart Madison, has been first twice and second twice.
She comes to the race from a dead-game winning effort in Churchill Downs' Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) June 17 where she battled stride for stride with the previously unbeaten Oonagh McCool, trained by Todd Pletcher.
Happy Ticket got her first feel of the Del Mar track Friday morning, jogging a mile over the main oval. The 5-year-old arrived from Leggio's Louisiana Downs headquarters late Wednesday night and walked Thursday morning.
America's leading rider, apprentice Julien Leparoux, comes in from Saratoga to ride.
Happy Ticket, who carries top weight of 120 pounds, faces a small but stellar number of rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Hirsch Sunday. Three of the five who will test the daughter of 1997 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) winner Anet are grade I winners as well and are fixtures in the female stakes division in Southern California.
The Darrell Vienna-trained Star Parade finished well behind Happy Ticket when the latter bowed by a neck to Spun Sugar in Oaklawn Park's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 8. Prior to that loss, the Argentine-bred Star Parade won Santa Anita's Santa Maria Stakes (gr. I).
Healthy Addiction has a victory in the Santa Margarita (gr. I) to her credit, and Hollywood Story comes to the race from victory in the Vanity Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park.
The California-bred Somethinaboutlaura is also riding a win into the Hirsch, capturing Hollywood Park's A Gleam Handicap (gr. II).
Only former claimer Maryfield has not yet won a stakes, but she was just a nose short in the A Gleam, her most recent start. Since being claimed for $50,000 in January by trainer Doug O'Neill, the Elusive Quality
5-year-old has posted two wins, two seconds and a third. $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr II, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 1 1/6 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Maryfield (ON), 114, Martin Garcia
2. Healthy Addiction (KY), 118, Victor Espinoza
3. Star Parade (ARG), 118, Martin A. Pedroza
4. Somethinaboutlaura (CA), 115, Alex O. Solis
5. Happy Ticket (LA), 120, Julien R. Leparoux
6. Hollywood Story (KY), 119, David R. Flores