Del Mar Race Report: Hope Springs Forth

Del Mar Race Report: Hope Springs Forth
Photo: AP/Benoit photo
Cal-bred Romanceishope, winning the Del Mar Derby.
Published in Sept. 8 issue of The Blood-Horse
The $300,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) on Sept. 3 went to a California-bred gelding who was not only dead lame the moment he first hit the backstretch, but who was once harder to ride than a bike up Mt. Everest. Meet Romanceishope, the latest turf ace from the Jenine Sahadi barn.

The son of In Excess left behind the best sophomore grass horses out West (save for Startac) in the nine-furlong Del Mar Derby. He's a far cry from the horse who could barely walk when he arrived at Sahadi's barn last year.

After gelding the overgrown colt, it took quite a team effort--everyone from vets to willing stable help to Romanceishope's patient owners, breeder Shigehiro Hatake and Semji Nishimura--to get the gelding on four firm legs. Even then, the puzzle wasn't complete. There was still the mind to work on.

"You wouldn't think this looking at his record because he's jumped up every level pretty nicely," explained jockey Chris McCarron. "But as far as learning what his duties are when he's running, he was a little slow. The first four or five times I rode him, he was like riding a bicycle uphill."

That is to say, when McCarron would ease off the bit, "Romance" took it as a hint to slow down. And when he wanted "Romance" to pick it up, the acceleration was instant. But Romanceishope's mid-race stops and starts told McCarron that deep down there was some talent waiting to burst through. Fast forward a few months--and a lot of individual attention--and Romanceishope is all business.

He had to be, for he was nearly wiped out on the first turn by Dr. Park, whose saddle slipped. After McCarron avoided potential tragedy, he settled Romanceishope in fifth, where they stayed before launching a bid on the far turn. Turning into the stretch, Indygo Shiner snatched the lead briefly, but McCarron and Romanceishope rolled by and held on to win by a length. Indygo Shiner fought off Blue Steller by a neck for second.

Romanceishope got the trip in 1:47.93. "He has fired every time," Sahadi said, shining like a doting mother. "There's no way I can knock this horse."


FLEET OF FEET

Pretend you've got a thin crack running the length of your big toenail. Now imagine driving that toe into a wall a couple hundred times over and over. You'll get roughly the same feeling a horse like El Corredor gets each time his feet succumb to a fresh quarter crack.

Depending on who you're asking, the root of a quarter crack ranges from rainy weather to bad shoeing. Most agree they appear more frequently during the wintertime, and that sometimes they're the end result of a dormant bruise. There's even the notion the issue may be hormonal, since virtually all quarter cracks appear in male horses.

But opinions aside, consider the concussion a horse's feet endure each time they strike the track. It should be no surprise something gives way. Consequently, a quarter crack can be regarded as a sort of stress fracture of the hoof. They are not career-ending problems, nor are they life-threatening injuries.

"It's more of a nuisance," said one noted farrier, adding with a sigh that some horses may simply be cursed from the start. "Some horses just get them. They're chronic."

For most of his career, the brilliant El Corredor has waged a battle with complaining hooves. But when his feet do cooperate, just stand back and watch a pro in motion. Ignoring a nine-month layoff, he came back smoking in the Pat O'Brien Handicap (gr. II) three weeks ago. Striking while the iron is hot--or while El Corredor's feet are cold--trainer Bob Baffert kicked the big colt loose again on Sept. 2, aiming for a repeat in the $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at a mile.

El Corredor got the job done. But it wasn't easy. Things started innocently enough, with El Corredor tracking Smile Again and Budroyale through a :46.31 half-mile. When he began a three-wide move around the turn, it had all the makings of another blowout. Budroyale dropped away, and though Smile Again hung tough till the stretch, the true threat came from Performing Magic.

A graded stakes-winning son of Gone West trained by John Shirreffs, Performing Magic got brave down at the rail, getting first jump on the leaders. When longshot Figlio Mio joined in passing the eighth pole, El Corredor was suddenly swarmed from both sides. But he somehow reached for more, finding that hidden reserve that only grade I horses possess. He fought them all back, prevailing by a head at the finish. Figlio Mio, a Rubiano gelding from the Ben Cecil barn, was a neck ahead of Performing Magic.

Only a loss last fall to Fusaichi Pegasus has kept El Corredor from pure perfection over the past two years. Baffert plans to put the son of Mr. Greeley on ice till late October, when he'll reemerge for the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) and a showdown with Kona Gold and Caller One.

Continued. . . .

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