Papa Clem faced plenty of hurdles during his Triple Crown campaign, and the road doesn't figure to get much easier when he makes his turf debut against a strong field in the $350,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Sept. 6.
Trainer Gary Stute, encouraged by jockey Garrett Gomez's assurances that Papa Clem has moved well over the grass in three recent turf drills, opted to enter the son of Smart Strike against such established turf runners as multiple grade II winner Battle of Hastings and La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) victor Meteore. The 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Derby drew nine 3-year-olds.
Owned and bred by Bo Hirsch, Papa Clem has won just once in seven tries so far in 2009. But the victory in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) was a big one and propelled the bay colt into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), where he finished a credible fourth.
A sixth-place showing in the Preakness (gr. I) followed, and after a brief freshening Papa Clem returned with a couple of stakes tries at Monmouth Park. He most recently ran fourth in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) when he finished 7 3/4 lengths behind Rachel Alexandra on a sloppy track Aug. 2.
Papa Clem settled in at Del Mar after that and has been working on the Durante course. A lifetime winner of $995,190 with two wins from 10 starts, he'll team with Gomez for the first time in the Del Mar Derby, where they have drawn post 8.
His opponents appear formidable, led by Michael House's Battle of Hastings, whose trainer, Jeff Mullins, decided to give his charge a refresher after a pair of exhausting head victories over Straight Story in the Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) June 20 and the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) July 18.
Mullins decided to skip the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 8, taking Battle of Hastings out of a possible run at the $5-million "Grand Slam of Grass" for any horse that sweeps the Colonial Turf Cup, the Virginia Derby, the Secretariat ,and the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park Nov. 7.
It has been quite a year so far for Battle of Hastings, nonetheless. The British-bred gelding by Royal Applause has won four of five starts, including the Baldwin (gr. IIIT) and the La Puente at Santa Anita this spring. His only loss came over a "good" course at Churchill Downs when the bay could not quite run down a runaway leader and finished second in the American Turf (gr. IIIT).
Tyler Baze, returning to action this weekend after breaking a finger earlier in the Del Mar meet, has the call on Battle of Hastings, who leaves from post 4.
Meteore, trained by Richard Mandella for owners Wertheimer and Frere, overcame a slow start to win the La Jolla by 1 1/2 lengths. The son of Pulpit has won three of his past four starts after losing his first five races. Rafael Bejarano, the colt's regular rider before being injured in a fall, regains the ride.
Alex Solis, who was aboard Meteore in the latest win, moves to Gretsky, who ran third in the La Jolla for trainer Neil Drysdale. The La Jolla runner-up, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Rendezvous, also returns in the Del Mar Derby.
Afleet Eagle, who has not been out since capturing the Oceanside Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths on opening day of the Del Mar meet July 22, brings a three-race win streak for trainer Vladimir Cerin. Ronald Waranch's homebred made his turf and stakes debut in the Oceanside.
Tommy Town Thoroughbreds' Oil Man, winner of the Cinema Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park in June for trainer John Sadler, returns to Southern California after a respectable fourth-place finish in the Secretariat.
Midnight Mischief, who ran fifth in his turf debut in Saratoga's National Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) Aug. 14, ships in from Woodbine for trainer Roger Attfield.
Acclamation, a California-bred son of Unusual Heat who has won two of four starts on the grass, makes his stakes debut for trainer Donald Warren. Acclamation has already started three times at the meet, winning once.
$350,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT, Race 6, 3:30 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Rendezvous (KY), J Rosario, J Hollendorfer
2. Midnight Mischief (KY), M E Smith, R L Attfield
3. Meteore (KY), R Bejarano, R E Mandella
4. Battle of Hastings (GB), T Baze, J Mullins
5. Oil Man (IRE), J R Leparoux, J W Sadler
6. Afleet Eagle (KY), C S Nakatani, V Cerin
7. Gretsky (KY), A O Solis, N D Drysdale
8. Papa Clem (KY), G K Gomez, G Stute
9. Acclamation (CA), J Talamo, D Warren
Each assigned 122 pounds.