Evening Jewel Outshines Del Mar Oaks Foes
Ridden by Victor Espinoza, Evening Jewel found room at the rail in the stretch and responded to urging to get the lead. She prevailed over Harmonious, who was charging down the stretch on the grandstand side but could not get to the wire in time.
Perfect on grass, Evening Jewel won the Honeymoon Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood and the San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) at Del Mar in July to run her winning streak to three races. Winner of the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack this spring at Keeneland, the California-bred daughter of Northern Afleet is a nose loss to Blind Luck in the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) from having captured a grade I race on every surface this year.
Evening Jewel made a winner once again of trainer James Cassidy, who was celebrating his 65th birthday, and owner Tom Braly and his family.
"I lost this race a few years ago on my birthday when Ticker Tape got beat, so folks were telling me I couldn't win on my birthday," said Cassidy, who also won the 2005 Del Mar Oaks with Singhalese. "Fortunately, they were wrong."
Harmonious, who responded to left-handed urging from jockey Mike Smith to drift sharply to the outer rail in the homestretch, took second, with Canadian invader Perfect Shirl third. The final time was 1:47.27 for the nine furlongs on firm turf.
Evening Jewel, who has won four of seven starts this year with three seconds, benefited when Antares World went to the lead and Crisp bulled her way to the front from her outside post, allowing the 7-5 choice room to drop down on the inside in third. With Weekend Magic racing to her outside, that's the way the leaders proceeded with Antares World showing the way through realistic quarter-mile splits of :23.50, :47.46, and 1:11.85.
Antares World took the advantage into the homestretch with Espinoza waiting for room to develop between the leader and Crisp. That opening never materialized, but Espinoza spotted a gap at the rail and Evening Jewel drove through and eventually got the lead over Antares World, who continued to battle. Perfect Shirl, closing from between rivals, also posed a threat with Chantal Sutherland aboard.
But it was the weaving Harmonious firing on the extreme outside who posed the biggest danger while arriving belatedly. Evening Jewel drifted out in the final strides in spite of right-handed urging from Espinoza, but not enough to change the result.
"When you ride one like this, you ride with a lot of confidence," said Espinoza, who previously won the Del Mar Oaks with No Matter What in 2000 for trainer Neil Drysdale. "You know you can do with her anything you need to do. She's not that big, but she's perfectly balanced. Just right. She shifts spots and she's easy to handle.
"I had to drop her down inside today, but it was no problem. It was a little tough down in there (waiting for room), but I knew everything was going to be OK. She's a really, really good filly. So athletic. She's special."
American Oaks (gr. IT) winner Harmonious ended a three-race winning streak. Pam and Marty Wygod's homebred filly was second by 1 1/4 lengths over Perfect Shirl, who was coming off a win in the Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga and had also won three in a row.
"When she came around the turn, she saw those horses running up on the screen (on the infield tote board) and she shied," Smith said of the runner-up's wide journey. "She just started running right. I had all I could do to try to keep her going straight. Too bad. She can run."
Evening Jewel boosted her career earnings to $876,943 after collecting a winner's share of $180,000. A five-time stakes winner this year, she improved her career mark to 6-5-0 in 12 starts.
"This was one of her best races, if not the best," Cassidy said. "Usually, she has room to run, but today she was boxed in, and even though she saved ground it was still a little scary. Victor was trying to take her between horses at the head of the stretch, but it tightened up on her and he had to steady and then go to the rail. That meant she had to re-rally instead of having that steady flow run.
"Then I became concerned about the outside horse, but my filly got there in good shape. When Victor had to take her inside, it showed me how athletic she is."
Betty Mabee and Larry Mabee bred the winning bay filly, an $8,000 Keeneland yearling buy in September 2008. She is out of the Giant's Causeway mare Jewel of the Night.
Racing at equal weights of 122 pounds, Evening Jewel paid $4.80, $2.80, and $2.20 and keyed a $16.60 exacta. Second choice Harmonious returned $3.20 and $2.60 in her first start for trainer John Shirreffs since winning the American Oaks in impressive style July 3. Charles Fipke's homebred Perfect Shirl, conditioned by Roger Attfield, returned $3.20 to show.
Warren's Jitterbug scratched.
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