Respect has been hard to come by for the lightly bred Medici Code but after the way the Darrell Vienna-trained gelding mowed down his rivals in the $400,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Sept. 2, that should change.
Herrick Racing's Medici Code, a Great Britain-bred son of Medicean, made it back-to-back grade II stakes victories on the Del Mar sod after also capturing the La Jolla Handicap for 3-year-olds on Aug. 11. Ridden both times by Martin Pedroza, the races unfolded similarly -- with Medici Code stalking on the far outside -- and the results were nearly identical.
Breaking from the outside post 10 in the 1 1/8-mile event on the narrow Del Mar course, Medici Code tracked the leaders through a moderate pace from mid-pack while racing at least four wide throughout. As the field moved to put the pressure on the pacesetting Augment rounding the far turn, it was Medici Code who rallied relentlessly while giving away quite a bit of ground. Put to strong encouragement from Pedroza in the lane, Medici Code surged past Augment and Worldly in deep stretch en route to a three-quarters of a length victory. The final time on firm going was a so-so 1:47.
The journeyman Pedroza said he was concerned about Medici Code's outside post on the tight turns of Del Mar's course.
"It was a wee question mark for me," he said. "I just wanted him to break well. I didn't save much ground during the early part of the race. But fortunately, he was very game, and when I asked him he gave me all he's got. I'm so very, very happy. This horse made my meet."
The 27-1 outsider Augment, ridden by Richard Migliore, set even fractions of :24, :48 and 1:12, then spurted away from the field briefly on the final turn before being tackled in the stretch by second choice Worldly, who took the lead for Victor Espinoza but could not hold on. Augment fought back along the inside to gain the place spot by a half-length over Worldly.
"He saw Worldly and he wasn't going to let him beat him," Migliore said of the runner-up. "He never saw the winner. I don't know if we could have beat him anyway, but he would have tried."
Missing in action was the 6-5 favorite Stoneside, making his first U.S. start for trainer Julio Canani after running second to French Derby (gr. IT) winner Lawman in the Prix Jean Prat (Fr-I) at Chantilly in his previous start July 8. The Irish-bred raced toward the rear of the pack while saving ground for Corey Nakatani but had nothing in the tank when angled out for the stretch run, finishing sixth.
"You could see he was green," Nakatani said. "He was a typical European horse out there today. He was learning. He was running on the wrong lead and he just wasn't sure of himself. He'll be better next time. I just wish he had another start over here in him before this."
Medici Code picked up seven pounds from his La Jolla win as the Del Mar Derby was contested at equal weight of 122. Medici Code came within a head of sweeping Del Mar's stakes series for 3-year-old turf runners, finishing second with bad racing luck in a division of the Oceanside on opening day of the meet July 18. After beginning his career in England for trainer Henry Morrison, where Medici Code enjoyed his greatest success on synthetic racing surfaces (three wins in four starts), the chestnut has proven to be a tough customer on the grass for Vienna, who has a great history with European and South American imports over the years.
"Everything was against him, losing all the ground," Vienna said. "But he settled down and really dropped into stride and opened up. It's a good field, too.
"He was training better and better. He's an improving horse. He's grown a lot since he's been here, and he's very composed."
Racing for Vienna, Medici Code has won two of four starts but he is five for seven in 2007, including his wins in England. His fifth lifetime win from 10 tries was worth $240,000 to push his career total to $361,689.
A late betting move saw Medici Code go off at 5-1, returning $12.60, $7.80 and $5. Augment paid $22.20 and $9, completing a $195.60 exacta. Worldly, who has run second to Medici Code in his last two starts after winning the Cinema (gr. IIIT) and Will Rogers (gr. IIIT) on the Hollywood Park turf this spring, was $3.40 to show.
Unusual Suspect finished fourth, a half-length out of the money, followed by Warning Zone, Stoneside, Vauqeuelin, Knockout Artist and Bleu Intense. Souvenir Slew was eased after giving way in the stretch.