by Brian P. Turner -- (Editor's Note: Content for this weekly handicapping notebook is provided by Brisnet)
Though the 2004 Del Mar meet has come to an end, racing officials made sure that the oceanside track went out in style with 13 stakes races over the last seven days of the meet. The highlight came on Labor Day as a field of 10 went to the post for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby (G2), contested at nine furlongs over the Jimmy Durante turf course.
The Julio Canani-trained BLACKDOUN (Fr) (Verglas [Ire]), who captured the Oceanside S. and the La Jolla H. (G2) earlier in the meet, was sent off as the heavy favorite as he attempted to become only the second horse ever to visit the winner's circle in all three of Del Mar's three-year-old turf races. It was back in 1998 that the feat was last accomplished as Ladies Din pulled off the sweep with Canani calling the shots for him as well.
Once the gates opened, Blackdoun quickly dropped back to trail the field, at one time running some 15 lengths off the pace, and the gray gradually began to move forward so that he was in contention as the field came off of the final turn. It was obvious that Blackdoun was full of run at this point, but jockey Corey Nakatani had to wait patiently for a hole to open in front of him. Once it did, the pair quickly began to eat up ground as they made a mad dash for the finish line to hit the wire a neck in front.
TOASTED (Hennessy) put in a solid effort to pick up the place, a nose better than LAURA'S LUCKY BOY (Theatrical
[Ire]) in third.
A claim of foul was lodged by jockey Tyler Baze aboard sixth-place finisher SEMI LOST (Lost Soldier
) against the top pair for bumping in the stretch drive, but the stewards quickly made the decision to let the order of finish stand.
The week's graded stakes action kicked off on Saturday as a field of seven fillies and mares, four-years-old and up, contested the 1 1/16-mile Palomar Breeders' Cup H. (G2) on the grass. ETOILE MONTANTE (Miswaki
) entered the race looking to avenge her fourth-place finish last out in the Osunitas H. where she was steadied and blocked before finishing with an impressive turn of foot to be beaten by only a length.
The betting public had complete faith in the Bobby Frankel trainee as they sent her off as the 9-5 favorite, and the four-year-old filly rewarded her backers by stalking the pace early, doggedly wrestling the lead away in the stretch drive, and then holding on gamely late to take the victory by three parts of a length.
KATDOGAWN (GB) (Bahhare) closed gamely at the end to pick up the place, a half-length in front of third-placer TANGLE (Ire) (Bob Back).
On Sunday, a mere field of six contested the eight-furlong Del Mar Breeders' Cup H. (G2) for three-year-olds and up. The Bob Baffert trained DURING (Cherokee Run
) was sent to the post as the 2-1 favorite but after challenging for the lead throughout, the dark bay faded to finish third, beaten four lengths.
In the end, the day belonged to SUPAH BLITZ (Mecke), who was making his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill. The four-year-old colt stalked the pace early before taking over in the stretch and holding off a challenge from DOMESTIC DISPUTE (Unbridled's Song
), to hit the wire a nose in front.
The final graded stakes of the meet was contested on Wednesday as a small field of four went to the gate for the Del Mar Futurity (G2). Though seven entered for the event, the presence of the Baffert-trained ROMAN RULER (Fusaichi Pegasus
) apparently prompted three entrants to stay in the barn. One who decided to take his shot was the Ron Ellis-trained DECLAN'S MOON (Malibu Moon
), and the decision definitely paid off.
After stalking the pace early, Declan's Moon advanced to the lead turning for home with Roman Ruler to his outside, and the pair battled to the wire with the former prevailing by a neck. It was another 9 1/2 lengths back to SWISS LAD (Phone Saga).
The week's other stakes action kicked off last Wednesday (September 1) as a field of six contested the Generous Portion S. for two-year-old Cal-bred fillies going six furlongs. COASTAL STRIKE (Smart Strike
) had a bit of trouble at the break but quickly shot to the lead and never looked back, crossing the wire a half-length in front. MEMORETTE (Memo [Chi]) rallied from off the pace to finish second, a length clear of favorite EXCESSIVELY NICE (In Excess
[Ire]) in third.
On Thursday, a field of seven fillies and mares, three-years- old and up, went to the gate for the Piedra Foundation H. at eight furlongs on the main track. Grade 1 winner ELLOLUV (Gilded Time
) was sent off as the heavy favorite and rewarded the chalk players. She stalked the pace early before challenging for the lead on the second turn and pulled away in the stretch to hit the wire 2 1/2 lengths clear of the field. LETRA DE CAMBIO (Brz) (Clackson [Brz]) picked up the place, with SAINTLY PERSUASION (Saint Ballado) another 2 1/2 lengths back.
On Friday, seven three-year-olds contested the eight-furlong El Cajon S. PERFECT MOON (Malibu Moon
) stalked the pace early before pulling clear in the stretch drive to easily defeat heavily favored BORREGO (El Prado
[Ire]) by 4 1/2 lengths. It was another three lengths back to COURAGEOUS ACT (Exploit
) in third.
On Saturday, a field of six three-year-old fillies contested the Torrey Pine S. at eight furlongs on the main track. MUIR BEACH (Skip Away
) overcame a troubled trip in which she was forced to steady in the stretch to pull away late, crossing the finish line two lengths in front. Heavily favored RESPLENDENCY (Tale of the Cat) stalked the pace throughout to finish second, a head in front of early pacesetter ALPHABET KISSES (Alphabet Soup
) in third.
Sunday's listed stakes offering came in the form of the eight-furlong Solana Beach H. for state-bred fillies and mares on the grass. TUCKED AWAY (Unusual Heat) stalked the pace early and put in a game effort when challenged late to hit the wire a head in front. Favored TEST THE WATERS (Chequer) rallied from off the pace to pick up the place, a nose in front of early pacesetter RAN FOR THE DOUGH (Bertrando) in third.
On Labor Day, in addition to the Del Mar Derby, fans were treated to two other stakes races kicking off with the six-furlong I'm Smokin S. for Cal-bred two-year-olds going six furlongs. TOP MONEY (Old Topper) stalked the pace early before taking charge in the stretch drive to finish three lengths clear of early pacesetter FALLFREE (Falstaff). It was another half-length back to PROUD TOWER TOO (Proud Irish).
In the six-furlong Pirate's Bounty H., OUR NEW RECRUIT (Alphabet Soup
) made his first start since taking the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-G1) back in March. After stalking the pace early, the chestnut opened up in the stretch drive to claim the victory by two lengths. BLUESTHESTANDARD (American Standard) was second, another two lengths in front of third-place finisher NEWARK (Benton Creek).
On Wednesday, a field of five fillies and mares, three-years-old and up contested the six-furlong C.E.R.F. H. LADY SABRINA (Patton
) stalked the pace early and pulled clear late to hit the wire four lengths in front. JETINTO HOUSTON (Houston) was second, a half-length in front of favored PAPA TO KINZIE (Boston Harbor) in third.
Finally, also on Wednesday, a field of 10 turf runners went to the gate for the eight-furlong Live The Dream H. STATEMENT (Seattle Slew) stalked the pace early and fought gamely to the wire to finish a head in front. CAYOKE (Fr) (Always Fair) put in a game effort for the place, finishing a neck in front of a fast-closing TSIGANE (Fr) (Anabaa) in third.
On the main track this week, horses on or near the pace held a big advantage in both sprints and routes. As for the turf, the sprints played fair but horses coming from off the pace held a slight advantage in the routes.
Doug O'Neill captured the training title as his 28 winners left him four ahead of Jeff Mullins. Baffert finished third with 17. As for the jockeys, it was a dogfight right down to the wire, but Corey Nakatani emerged on top by a score of 54-52 over Tyler Baze. Victor Espinoza came third with 44.
I would like to thank everyone that has followed the Notebook through the meet and wish you nothing but winners until next summer when it will be time once again to return to where the "turf meets the surf" at Del Mar.
HORSES TO WATCH
3RD - STALKING TIGER (Twin Spires) broke a bit slowly from the gate then was in a bit tight in the stretch drive of this allowance optional claiming sprint. Though he finished fourth, the gelding was showing a nice turn of foot at the end and could be a threat in his next start.
3RD - STANTON (Menifee
) put in a solid effort in his first turf attempt as he rallied from midpack and was moving with good energy late to come up three parts of a length short in this maiden special affair. With a trip over the grass under his belt, the dark bay could pose a threat in his next try on the lawn.
8TH - MATT'S MEMO (Memo [Chi]) went to the lead and improved his position in this maiden claiming event to cross the wire 12 lengths in front. Provided the connections don't become too ambitious with his placement, the juvenile could loom a threat next out as well.
2ND - WINNING HAND (Slewpy) put in an impressive performance in his career debut by rallying from off the pace and pulling away late to claim victory in this Cal-bred maiden claiming race by five lengths.
4TH - Test The Waters closed well at the end of the Solana Beach to miss by only a head. The five-year-old mare has really come to life since moving into the barn of Jeff Mullins and looms a serious threat wherever she shows up next.
6TH - CULTURE CLASH (Petionville
) had quite an impressive career debut as she closed from next to last, more than 14 lengths off the lead, in this full field of 12 to claim the victory by a neck.
3RD - CASH IN THE BANK (Robyn Dancer) had been knocking on the door in each of his first two career starts but finally got over the hump here in a big way. The two-year-old gelding took the lead out of the gate and never looked back, easily cruising home to a nine-length victory under little more than a hand ride.
4TH - SPLENDID BLENDED (Unbridled's Song
) made her first career start an impressive one by going to the lead early and pulling clear in the stretch drive of this eight-furlong maiden special event to hit the wire five lengths in front.
6TH - Our New Recruit put in a nice effort in the Pirate's Bounty, posting a solid 107 BRIS Speed rating. The chestnut appears to be in the best form of his career and looks to be a solid contender for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) should the connections decide to go that route.
7TH - LONG RANGE MISSILE (Tactical Cat
) is now a perfect two-for-two in his short career. The gray stalked the pace early in this six-furlong allowance event then pulled clear in the stretch to cross the wire three lengths clear of the field under nothing but a hand ride.
8TH - Blackdoun has yet to be asked for his best in three North American starts, and he continues to win the big ones.
3RD - BERTELLI (NZ) (Yachtie [Aus]) was forced to steady in the early stages of this turf claiming event, which left her trailing the field, but the six-year-old mare finished with good energy to pick up the show. A better trip next out could yield better results.
5TH - LUCKY BID (Maria's Mon
) was mugged at the start of this eight-furlong maiden special event then spent the rest of his journey going four to five wide on both turns. Still, the gray finished respectably to gain the place, 4 1/2 lengths clear of the rest of the field.
8TH - Declan's Moon returns to the Watch List after pulling off the upset over the highly regarded Roman Ruler in the Del Mar Futurity. The gelding put in a game performance and now deserves the respect his counterpart has been receiving.