On the eve of the Aug. 7 "Battle of the Exes" match race between Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland, the last combatants in such an event at Del Mar, Julie Krone and Patrick Valenzuela offered recollections of their great 2003 battle.
As will be the case this time, the "Battle of the Sexes" was the fourth race on a 10-race card with win-only wagering offered. In this year's contest, the result of a blind draw, Sutherland rides Parable for trainer Carla Gaines while Smith pilots Joker Face for trainer Peter Eurton, the 3-5 morning line favorite. The one-mile Polytrack race is for 3-year-old maiden claiming horses running for $40,000. Post time is 3:30 p.m. PDT.
A blind draw in 2003 had given the assignment on Summer Mayberry-trained Chester’s Choice to Valenzuela and Bob Baffert-conditioned Woke Up Dreamin to Krone.
“It was a lot of pressure at the time because I thought Julie was on the best horse,” said Valenzuela, who was a replacement for the injured Gary Stevens.
“I knew I had to change up something to get my horse to perform, so I asked Summer to put some speed (workouts) in him," Valenzuela said during a break while breezing horses at Del Mar recently. "Because match races are won by speed and because he was a mid-pack route horse and the horse that Bob trained was a sprinter.
“Summer put some more speed into the horse and I thought she did a great job training him up to the race.”
Valenzuela urged Chester’s Choice from the start from the inside post position and, as he hoped, was on even terms with Krone and Woke Up Dreamin until there was less than a half mile to go in the 1 1/16-mile event.
“At the three-eighths pole, Julie starts to get an advantage on me,” Valenzuela recalled. “And when she does, she tries to shave me (encroach on space to intimidate the rival horse) a little bit. I yelled at her, you can see it on the replay. But she opened up about two or two-and-a-half lengths on me.
“My horse didn’t really hit another gear, but her horse started getting tired, and I got my horse to finish all he could and got up right at the wire. It was just an amazing race.
“I really thought turning into the stretch that she was going to beat me, but I couldn’t give up. I thought if I come back to that jocks room (after a loss) I’m going to get so much ribbing and I’ll never hear the end of it. So I had to win the race.”
Krone’s memories of the race don’t completely coincide with Valenzuela’s. But the fact remains that it was the closest match race finish at Del Mar since Seabiscuit bested Ligaroti in 1938.
“If I had it to do over, I’d do what I always tried to do and that would be to have a little more horse left over at the end,” Krone said. “But hopefully, again this time the horses will be well matched, it will be nice and safe, and there will be an element of fun for everybody. Because that’s what it’s all about. “
Regarding their rooting interest in Sunday’s race, Krone and Valenzuela are in agreement.
“I like Mike Smith’s chances,” Valenzuela said, “I have to support the gender.”
“From one standpoint, I have to support the gender,” Krone said. “But Mike Smith is an old friend. And friendship trumps gender.”
Smith and Sutherland were once engaged to be married and their relationship was a a staple during the two-year run of the television series, "Jockeys."
Joker Face, who drew the inside, ran second in a $30,000 claiming event on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track July 8, beaten by a neck. He is making his fifth start and will be ridden by Smith for the first time.
Parable is winless in eight starts and has not raced since finishing third in a $40,000 maiden claimer at Hollywood May 21. Sutherland rode Parable to a fifth-place finish in a maiden special at Santa Anita March 24.