The Thoroughbred Corp. homebred Dessert, making her debut in stakes company, captured Sunday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) in gate-to-wire fashion, holding off an unlucky Solar Echo by a neck on the grass.
Dessert, a 3-year-old half-sister to Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) winner Johar from the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Windsharp, set a stakes record of 1:47.04, breaking Dublino's mark of 1:47.16 set just last year. The race has been contested at 1 1/8 mile since 1965.
Expertly handled by Corey Nakatani, the Storm Cat filly turned in relatively relaxed fractions of :23 1/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11 4/5 as she led stablemate Atlantic Ocean into the stretch.
On the turn for home, a stalking Solar Echo, ridden by David Flores switched to the outside of Atlantic Ocean at the same time Cassis, with Kent Desormeaux, moved into contention with a wide move from well back on the turn. The two bumped at the top of the stretch before Solar Echo disengaged and re-rallied best of all through the lane. In the meantime, Dessert had cleared off to lead by about three lengths.
Although she enjoyed clear running the rest of the way, Solar Echo, who was trained by Ron McAnally, the winning conditioner of Candy Ride in the Pacific Classic (gr. I), could not get to the winner in time. She settled for second, 1 1/4 length ahead of late-closing Personal Legend, who had Jerry Bailey aboard for trainer Bobby Frankel.
"She ran nice and relaxed today," Nakatani said. "I was just trying to be a quiet passenger. I rode her momma, too. She's been a bit of a handful."
"A couple more jumps and I would have had her," Flores said. "But that's horse racing. I had to make my way out of (the pack) on the turn. They told me they wanted me to wait and make one good run. I wanted to go earlier, but I couldn't. She really dug in at the end. She was the only filly accelerating at the finish."
Frankel, who had top entries in all five grade I stakes at Del Mar and Saratoga this weekend, did not win any of them. Frankel, with 18 grade I wins in 2003, is pursuing the record of 22 set by D. Wayne Lukas in 1987.
Cassis, making her first start in the United States after racing in the leading 3-year-old group I filly races in England and France – the French Oaks, the Coronation Stakes and the Nassau Stakes – earlier this year, finished fourth.
Desormeaux said circumstances worked against him.
"She gave some run, but then didn't have it," he said. "But it is obvious she's a capable filly and can win this kind of race. We need to employ different tactics next time."
Dessert, trained by Richard Mandella, who also has Johar in his barn, broke her maiden March 23 at Santa Anita on the downhill turf course. After a second-place finish in an optional allowance in May at Hollywood, she won a first-level allowance race at Del Mar Aug. 4 impressively by 3 1/2 lengths.
"She's a strong-minded filly; just like her mother," Nakatani noted. "You've got to be patient. I listened to Mr. Mandella, heard what he had to say about her. He's done some job with her. He's getting her to relax. And with her speed and ability, she could be special. She's still young and learning, but she's learning fast. She'll go on from here and hopefully be even better."
Mandella, who won his first stakes of the Del Mar meet, added, "She's loaded with talent and loaded with pedigree. If we can just keep her head together she should be fine. We give her a special-education class every day. She can be real sweet or real bad. It depends on how the wind blows. But she's getting a little better each day – maybe a lot better today. It takes a lot of patience and a lot of repetition."
The Oaks, which was her third career victory in seven starts, was worth $180,000, bringing her career total to $259,560.
Sent off as part of the 5-2 entry, she paid $7, $3.60 and $2.40. Solar Echo returned $2.20 and $3.20. Personal Legend's show price was $3. The $2 exacta was worth $31.40.
Attendance was 30,458