Local star Diva Delite notched her fifth consecutive win and proved herself in graded stakes company, as she rolled past rivals coming off the final turn en route to a two-length victory in the $175,000 Florida Oaks (gr. III) (VIDEO) March 13 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Trained by David Vivian, Diva Delite was a perfect 3-for-3 as a sophomore entering the 1 1/16-mile Florida Oaks, with her last two wins coming at Tampa in the Gasparilla and Suncoast Stakes. This was her first try in graded stakes competition.
Under the handling of Rosemary Homeister Jr., Diva Delite raced mid-pack in a tightly-bunched field of nine 3-year-old fillies, as Mallory Square and Cuff Me led the way through unhurried fractions of :24.79 and :50.03. There was a large cluster of horses further back in the next group, including Diva Delite, who was widest of all but moving well around the turn.
With a shake of the reigns, Diva Delite breezed past her rivals when they reached the quarter-pole, and took a short advantage into the stretch. Mallory Square was game in upper stretch under Daniel Centeno, as was C C's Pal, who was racing along the rail. But Diva Delite put the race away inside the sixteenth-pole and hit the wire in a final time of 1:46.10 over a fast track.
C C’s Pal, with Jeremy Rose aboard, finished second at 2-1, a half-length better than Mallory Square.
“She broke nicely like she always has and I took a spot behind the lead group,” said Homeister, who also rode the winner in her other two starts this season. “But the pace slowed and I was afraid of up running up on horses so took her out and asked her to wait. She wanted to go after them as we got past the half mile pole, but when I asked her to go she just went past everybody in about five strides. All I was worried about in the stretch was that something might come up inside of us but there was nothing there.”
A daughter of Repent—Tour Hostess, by Tour d’Or, Diva Delite made her first 12 starts at Calder, winning five times. She broke her maiden in a $32,000 claimer last summer. Overall, the consistent filly has posted an 8-4-2 mark from 15 starts. She has earned $285,067 for her owners, Barbara Vivian and Dominic Vittese. She was bred in Florida by Clover Leaf Farms II.
The ambitious schedule that Vivian has asked of Diva Delite so far has him leaning toward resting the filly rather than pointing for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). But nothing has been written in stone.
“You never know what you’re going to do,” Vivian said. “Right now I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but she’s run some hard races, and I’ve shipped her back and forth with two weeks apart and three weeks apart; she’s done a lot. She looks excellent, though, so I’m just going to play it by ear.”
The 9-5 favorite, Diva Delite paid $5.60, $3, and $2.80. The exacta (6-2) was $74.80 and the trifecta (6-2-7) was $591.60.
Cuff Me was fourth, followed by Awesome Vow, Yournotthebossofme, Tesoro de Amor, Miss Afleet Alex, and Imaginary Saint. The champion 2-year-old filly of 2009, She Be Wild, was scratched.
Earlier on the card in the $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) for fillies and mares, Todd Pletcher trainee Phola came from last under Ramon Dominguez to sweep to a resounding 4 1/4-length score in a scratched-filled affair.
With the turf course labeled ‘good’ at Tampa Bay Downs, the nine-furlong Hillsborough went to post with only six fillies and mares, as six horses (five betting interests) were scratched including the top three morning-line choices—Mushka, Lady Shakespeare, and Tottie.
Sent off as the 9-5 favorite, Phola was in no hurry through three-quarters, as she trailed the field while longshot In My Glory took the field around in easy splits of: 24.96, :50.33, and 1:14.36. Ainamaa and Coulee tracked the leader.
Phola made her winning move while coming five-wide off the second turn and roared past the field before they hit the eighth-pole. She opened up in the stretch to win going away. The final time was 1:52.51. Cure for Sale was runner-up, followed by Liberally.
Phola is a 4-year-old daughter of Johannesburg—Humbling, by Petionville. It was the first stakes win for the dark bay/brown filly, who opened up her 2010 campaign with an allowance win at Gulfstream Park Feb. 7. She is owned by the partnership of George Saufley, J. J. Pletcher, and William and Graydon Patterson.
“It feels fantastic,” Saufley said. “I knew she was going to break out sometime, but I just didn’t know when. She didn’t wait too long. It was really exciting; a beautiful race. She’s done pretty well on the soft turf, and the Pletchers have done a good job with her.”
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Andover Way and N & P Horse Racing Venture. She paid $5.80, $3, and $2.40.