Southern California caught a little Black Ruby Fever Sunday at Del Mar.
The five-time Racing Mule of the Year beat rival Taz by about two lengths in a special $10,000 400-yard match race that followed the day's regular racing card. Both mules carried 129 pounds.
It was the first match race at Del Mar since 1994.
The final time for the 400 yards was 23.35 seconds.
Owned by Sonny and Mary McPherson and trained by Ron White, the 10-year-old Black Ruby, by Two Bals, registered her 60th career victory in 72 races and defeated Taz, who is 8, for the 39th time in her career. The rivalry has been a staple on the Northern California fair circuit for several years.
The $6,000 winning purse increased Black Ruby's earnings to $170,850.
Taz, trained by Ed Burdick, defeated Black Ruby in their last clash at Sacramento's Cal Expo meeting, although Black Ruby spotted her male rival eight pounds (136-128) in that one. It was the only loss for Black Ruby in two years, and the fourth win for Taz over her the champion.
Sunday, Black Ruby, usually a poor starter, broke alertly to a one-length lead and held it, veering out as they neared the wire under jockey Jim Burns.
"She was on it today," said Burns. "She was good at the gate and she came right out of there. We brought our own gate man (assistant starter) down. He knows her well and he knows how to handle her. The first 50 yards I knew I was a winner. She was doing it. She saw Taz next to her and she was gone. She likes to be eyeballed; it gets her juices flowing. When we got beat up in Sacramento, she never saw him (Taz). They were too far apart. But today it was just like it was supposed to be. This was the real Black Ruby."
Taz was ridden by "Cowboy" Jack Kaenel, who road 1982 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Aloma's Ruler.
"Ruby had her good day," said Kaenel, who beat her in Sacramento. "She's a terrific runner and when she has her day she's just too tough. My guy ran good. He just got outrun."
Officials estimated that more than 8,000 of the original crowd of 19,342 stuck around for the "Mule Duel."
The riders and mules go at again in a second match race at Fairplex Park Saturday.