Tucked Away, a mare with many more nibbles than bites, surprised the field in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar Sunday when she nipped a surging Hollywood Story by a nose at the wire.
Alex Solis brought the California-bred 5-year-old daughter of Unusual Heat from well back at the head of the stretch to register her first graded stakes victory at odds of 19-1. A 10-minute steward inquiry into the stretch run involving the winner ensued before the decision was made official.
"I was concerned about today's distance," Solis said. "I've never ridden her going this far. But she has one thing going for her – she's a hard trier no matter how far they're running."
Trained by Patrick Gallagher, Tucked Away had lost eight races in a row while running second in her last two starts and third on three other occasions during the losing streak. The victory, the dark bay's fifth in 29 lifetime starts (to go with seven places and five shows), earned $180,000 for owner Nico Nierenberg and increased the mare's bankroll to $582,956.
Tucked Away, Gallagher said, is a mare that needs to be reminded to keep running.
"Sometimes she tends to drop pretty far out of it," he said. "And on the backstretch when Hollywood Story came to her she stayed right on and I felt that she must be running all right because Hollywood Story didn't get past her, which is what I was kind of afraid of. At one stage I was thinking 'Come on, maybe you can be third, and then try to be second and then ... '"
The 5-2 favorite Hollywood Story came from far back with her patented late sweeping move to just miss at the wire for Victor Espinoza. They appeared to lose a bit of momentum in upper stretch when the grade I winning Hollywood Story was rallying five wide.
Tyler Baze, aboard Muir Beach, positioned just inside of Hollywood Story, had to snatch up when Solis jerked Tucked Away toward the outer rail in order to avoid the tiring Star Parade, who was drifting outward under Garrett Gomez. Stewards found that Star Parade, who finished fifth, was the cause of the trouble and left the order unchanged.
"It cost me the race," Espinoza said. "I had to stop riding for two or three jumps and you saw how far I was beaten."
Solis countered, "I didn't think it was (Tucked Away's) fault at all. It wouldn't have been right if she had been disqualified for what happened."
The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event for fillies and mares was 1:42 4/5.
Valentine Dancer, who fought the second choice Alphabet Kisses for the lead through quick early fractions of :22 4/5, :45 4/5 and 1:09 4/5, inherited the lead when Alphabet Kisses threw in the towel at the rail in mid-stretch. Valentine Dancer enjoyed a two-length lead after completing the mile in 1:36 but had to settle for third as Tucked Away and Hollywood Story stormed past in the late stages. She finished 2 1/4 lengths behind.
"We took control, but then she was all used up," jockey Jon Court said. "I thought I'd be farther back for the trip – a couple of lengths. I thought Alphabet Kisses would go quicker and be farther in front. But what are you going to do?"
Santa Candida rallied from dead last to finish fourth, a neck ahead of Storm Parade. The unlucky Muir Beach finished sixth, followed by Girl Warrior and Alphabet Kisses.
Girl Warrior and Santa Candida both broke through the gate before the race began and had to be re-loaded, holding up the start for several minutes.
Tucked Away, who ran fifth behind Miss Loren in last year's Hirsch, was coming off a strong closing second-place finish in the Valkyr for state breds at Hollywood Park July 16. Prior to that she ran second behind Puxa Saco in the six-furlong Desert Stormer (gr. III) over the same track in June. The victory was her second in four starts at Del Mar.
She paid $40.40, $12.40, and $6. Hollywood Story returned $4.60 and $3.20. Valentine Dancer's show was $3.60.