She finished second in last year's Palomar Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), but Gotta Have Her would not be denied this time around, rallying in the stretch to edge pacesetter Lethal Heat by a neck in the $200,000 feature on closing day of Del Mar's 2009 meet Sept. 9.
Tyler Baze combined with trainer Jenine Sahadi and owner Green Lantern Stables to produce the biggest win in the career of Gotta Have Her, a 5-year-old mare by Royal Academy.
Saving ground for Baze in fifth or sixth position as Lethal Heat and Alex Solis carved relaxing fractions in the 1 1 /16-mile turf event for fillies and mares, Gotta Have Her moved up to third in upper stretch. She angled out and responded willingly when asked to confront the leader inside the eighth pole. Under strong handling from Baze, she gradually wore down Lethal Heat on her inside to gain control in the last couple of strides.
Baze was overjoyed with Gotta Have Her's effort.
"She's just a joy to ride," said Baze after his fourth stakes win of the meet. "You've got to love a horse like her."
The winning time was a sharp 1:40.67 over firm going, exactly one second off the course mark established by Mea Domina in winning the 2006 Palomar.
Lethal Heat, who posted fractions of :24.47, :48.95, and 1:12.11, held on for second by three parts of a length over the 11-10 choice Carribean Sunset. The favorite was ridden by top New York jockey Ramon Dominguez for trainer Christophe Clement, who won last year's Palomar with Vacare.
Gotta Have Her was coming off a game second-place showing in the John C. Mabee Handicap (gr. IT) Aug. 16, when she finished one length behind Magical Fantasy, who skipped the Palomar. She ran third in Hollywood Park's Royal Heroine (gr. IIT) prior to that. The Palomar victory, worth $120,000, was the bay mare's first since capturing the Las Cienegas Handicap (gr. IIIT) on the Santa Anita hillside turf course at about 6 1/2 furlongs April 12.
"I think she's fabulous," said Sahadi after winning her first stakes of the meet. "I just adore her. She gives 110 percent every time she runs.
"I usually don't run horses back quite so soon, but it was either this race or go two months to the next one," she added. "I had some anxiety about coming back so soon, but I guess it turned out OK. It's been quite a project to get her to relax and settle out there, but it was great to see her settle behind that slow pace today."
Lethal Heat had things her own way on the front end when David Lopez, aboard Wild Promises, elected to lay off the early pace while racing in second. They stayed that way well into the final turn when Wild Promises began to increase the pressure on Lethal Heat, who withstood the challenge to take a clear advantage into the lane. Lethal Heat led by 1 1/2 lengths mid-stretch and it took a determined effort by Gotta Have Her to collar her late.
"She's as game and competitive as they come," Solis said of the runner-up. "She ran so hard. I'm proud of her."
The unlucky Lethal Heat ran four times at the meet for trainer Barry Abrams and lost the last three after leading in the stretch. In the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. I) Aug. 9, she finished third when passed late by the 12-for-12 Zenyatta and Anabaa's Creation, beaten by three-quarters of a length. Three weeks later, Lethal Heat ran third again, this time against males in the Del Mar Mile Handicap (gr. IIT), losing to the late-charging Ferneley by two lengths.
The 120-pound top weight Carribean Sunset ran well in spurts for Dominguez, but appeared to be done on the final turn before rallying to get up for third over the fading Wild Promises.
"I don't know if it was that she needed more pace, or that my filly was a little slow getting with it today," Dominguez said. "She kicked, but we were a little too late."
Gotta Have Her improved her career record to 7-6-3 in 22 starts with earnings of $630,608. She has finished in the money in her last eight starts, seven of those in stakes. She won for the second time in six tries on the Del Mar turf.
Nursery Place and Robert T. Manfuso bred Gotta Have Her in Kentucky. She is out of the Rahy mare Winnowing.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of eight, Gotta Have Her carried 119 pounds and paid $8.80, $4.60, and $2.60. Lethal Heat, who has now gone more than a year since her last victory, returned $5.60 and $3.80 and rounded out the $48.40 exacta.Carribean Sunset, coming off a second-place finish to Forever Together in Saratoga's Diana Stakes (gr. IT), was $2.40 to show.
It was three-quarters of a length to Wild Promises, who lost for only the seventh time in 20 lifetime starts. Meydan Princess, Dawn After Dawn, Bel Air Sizzle, and Missit rounded out the order. Allicansayis Wow and Flashover scratched.
Jockey Joel Rosario and trainer John Sadler sewed up titles that had been in the bag for some time, collaborating for three victories on the final program of the season. Rosario had another winner aboard Dancing In Silks in the third race, the $112,320 Pirate's Bounty Stakes.
Rosario ended the meet with 55 winners, while Sadler had 31, giving him consecutive Del Mar titles with exactly the same number of victories.
Dancing In Silks, owned by Ken Kinakin and trained by Carla Gaines, won the Prate's Bounty by 1 1/4 lengths over Candy Pull, with Tangled Tango third. The 1-2 favorite Cost of Freedom finished a disappointing fourth in his first race in almost a year. Dancing In Silks ran six furlongs in 1:09.96 and paid $6.80.