Odds-on choice Vacare gave trainer Christophe Clement his 1,000th lifetime win in her final career start when she rallied in the homestretch to win the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap (g. IIT) (VIDEO) on closing day of the Hollywood Park Autumn Meet Dec. 21.
After a couple of tough losses this fall, Vacare went out a winner with a one-length tally over Gotta Have Her in the 1 1/16-mile grass event for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old Lear Fan mare, a grade I winner in 2006, is to be retired to breeding. The well-traveled bay retires with eight wins in 14 lifetime starts, all on turf, and earnings of $1,213,706.
“Chris got his thousandth winner,” assistant Nicholas Bachalard said. “Actually he had a thousand yesterday at Tampa, but the filly was disqualified. Vacare’s been a great filly for us and she’s retiring after this race. She has been great to be around and has been a great race mare for us, maybe a touch unlucky at some times. She had a great career and we will miss her dearly.”
Clement, a 43-year-old native of France, formerly worked as an assistant to Shug McGaughey in the United States and Luca Cumani in England. A three-time winner of the Beverly D. (gr. IT) with England's Legend (2001), Royal Highness (2007) and Mauralakana (2008), his other top stakes winners have included Trampoli, Dynever, Danish, Coretta, Honor Glide, Relaxed Gesture, Dedication, Forbidden Apple, In Summation, Rutherienne and Gio Ponti.
He took over conditioning Vacare for owners Jon and Sarah Kelly from Chris Block in 2007. The Dahlia was Vacare's third grade II victory since being transferred to Clement. In her only other Hollywood Park start, she finished third in the 2007 Gamely (gr. IT0.
In the Dahlia, Vacare, under Jose Valdivia Jr., saved ground from her rail post the entire way while stalking the pacesetter In My Glory and Gotta Have Her with Green Lyons on her outside. Vacare had a head of steam coming off the far turn and appeared she would lack racing room in the stretch. Valdivia was up in the stirrups as Vacare advanced on the leaders, but they got a break when Green Lyons veered out coming into the stretch. That opened up room for Vacare, who was angled three wide for the stretch run. She reached even terms with Gotta Have Her and In My Glory approaching the sixteenth pole and proved best under moderate encouragement. The final time was 1:43.17 on firm going.
"At the quarter pole, I didn't see any other horses coming up to keep me in the pocket, so I thought why wheel out right here?” Valdivia said. “I knew she would be there for me when I called on her. I'll tell you what, those two in front never quit running. My filly just ran them down and she really had to pick up the tempo to do it. I've always felt she was a grade I caliber filly and she showed her class today. She's such a pleasure to ride. I'm going to miss her a lot, but at least she goes out a winner."
Gotta Have Her, ridden by Richard Migliore, edged the stubborn In My Glory and Martin Garcia by a half-length for second. In My Glory, making her graded stakes debut for trainer Efrain Mianda, carved soft fractions of :24.84, :50.06 and 1:14.57 and stayed around in a game try at odds of 18-1.
The victory was the fourth in five lifetime starts at the 1 1/16-mile distance for Vacare, who won the grade II Palomar Handicap at the trip this summer at Del Mar. She followed that effort with a second-place finish in Oak Tree's Yellow Ribbon (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Sept. 27, just three quarters of a length behind Wait a While. In the Oct. 24 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) one month later, Vacare was in striking distance of the victorious Forever Together but was out-kicked late. She wound up fifth, beaten two lengths for it all.
In winning the Dahlia, Vacare raced in partnership with the Kellys, Helen Alexander, Don Cimpl and Jim Witz, et al. Lothenbach Stables bred the winner, who is out of Appealing Storm, by Valid Appeal.
Vacare carried top weight of 122 pounds and paid $3.60, $2.60 and $2.40, topping a $2 exacta worth $11.60. Gotta Have Her, who also ran second to Vacare in the Palomar for trainer Jenine Sahadi, returned $3.60 and $2.80 as the 7-2 second choice. In My Glory was $5.40 to show.
"She ran great,” Migliore said of the runner-up. “I thought we had it but the winner just ran a little better. I'm very proud of her. She deserves to win a graded stakes. I just hope she gets one soon.”
It was 3 1/4 lengths to I Can See in fourth, followed by Lady Digby, Green Lyons, Belle Allure and Don't Forget Faith. A full field was reduced by the scratches of Place de L'Etoile, Sensational Love, Valbenny and Storybook.