Even-money choice Summer Wind Dancer and jockey Victor Espinoza needed nearly all of the 1 1/4-mile Delaware Handicap (gr. II) to overtake front-running Roar Emotion by 1 1/4 lengths Sunday at sloppy Delaware Park.
A California-bred 4-year-old gray/roan filly, Summer Wind Dancer picked up by far her richest victory in the $750,000 event for fillies and mares, which was timed in 2:03 3/5 in the goo.
The Southern California shipper, a daughter of Siberian Summer, is developing into one of the top older fillies or mares in the nation. Making her first start at 10 furlongs, she struggled with the track most of the way before improving her position on the far turn and finding her best stride in the stretch. She closed powerfully to catch the tiring Roar Emotion, who had a five-length lead in the stretch for jockey Jerry Bailey, in the final 70 yards.
Summer Wind Dancer was distracted at the start, breaking last from the extreme outside post in a field of eight. She raced far back through the first turn and was wide on the backstretch as Roar Emotion outran Misty Sixes and Mario Pino through solid splits of :23 1/5, :47, 1:11 3/5 and 1:36 4/5. On the far turn Roar Emotion pulled away from Misty Sixes by three lengths as Espinoza ranged up on the outside with Summer Wind Dancer. Cloakof Vagueness also moved up along the inside for the stretch run.
In the stretch, it looked like they were all running for second as Roar Emotion continued to pull away. But Roar Emotion, who had never been 1 1/4 miles and hadn't won at 1 1/8 since last year's Black Eyed Susan (gr. II), shortened stride in the final furlong and couldn't last as Summer Wind Dancer put in her long determined rally.
"When we got to the first turn, I did not want to be to far back," said Espinoza. "She is the kind of filly you need to keep riding all the way. You cannot give up with her. At the 5/8th's pole a horse came up inside me and we bumped a little bit and she went.
"Running on an off track for her was a big question and she answered it. Distance has made the difference with her in her career. Going longer has made her a better horse. Before she would sprint and close late."
Bailey said he had no regrets.
"I mean I tried to steal it turning for home," he said. "Actually, on the middle of the turn I opened up. She was traveling good and getting across the ground, so I just opened up to steal it and the winner just ran me down."
Since owners/breeders Richard Wira, Yvette Wira and Linda Vetter transferred Summer Wind Dancer to Jeff Mullins earlier this year, the filly's career has taken off. In four starts since April 4, all stakes, she has two victories and two second-place performances, each loss coming by a head against state-bred company. She won the Hawthorne (gr. III) at Hollywood Park in her last start June 6 with a late rush to corral well-regarded Pesci.
"We put the blinkers on (four starts ago) and started making her train in company and we have made her do most everything she has done up until about the last month," said winning trainer Jeff Mullins. "I think we got her tight now and fit. She really has never been that fit. Now that she is good and fit, she has went on with it all by herself."
Summer Wind Dancer was set to go in last Sunday's $250,000 Milady Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. Mullins said Espinoza was already committed to another runner in that race, so they opted to ship east.
"It looked like a little tougher race for a lot less money," Mullins said of the Milady
Overall, Summer Wind Dancer has a record of 5-5-3 in 16 starts. The $450,000 winning slice Sunday more than doubled her lifetime earnings to $865,762.
Summer Wind Dancer paid $4, $2.80 and $2.10. Roar Emotion, who was 5 3/4 lengths clear in second, returned $3.60 and $2.20, completing a $13.60 exacta. Misty Sixes, who faded in the stretch, finished three quarters of a length in front of Cloakof Vagueness for third. The show price was $2.20.
Shiny Sheet, Redoubled Miss, Gelli and Go On Baby followed. Firecard and Savedbythelight scratched.