Off a scintillating win in the Boiling Springs Stakes (gr. IIIT) in her turf debut, Team Valor International's Summer Soiree ships cross-country for the $250,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) against a quality field Aug. 20.
Among those she'll be facing in the 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Oaks are Nereid and Cambina, deadheat winners of the American Oaks (gr. IT) last month, Honeymoon Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Sarah's Secret, and recent San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) upsetter Up In Time. Other capable fillies in the lineup are grade III winners Bizzy Caroline and Star Billing.
The Del Mar Oaks is the eighth race on the program with a 5:30 p.m. PDT scheduled post. Ten are entered, with three others on the also-eligible list.
Graham Motion, who trains Summer Soiree for Barrys Irwin's Team Valor, said that in spite of dominating wins on both dirt and synthetic tracks during a 10-race career, the War Front filly's immediate future is on the grass. He and Irwin came to that conclusion watching the bay filly romp by 8 1/2 lengths at Monmouth Park in the Boiling Springs June 25. The Del Mar Oaks, in spite of its great distance from Motion's training center at Fair Hill in Maryland, seemed the most logical next step.
"I think the fact that it’s a great run (at Del Mar) is very appealing," Motion said. "I think the fact that it’s firm turf is also very appealing. So this is just a race that we had on our radar kind of as soon as she won on the grass that day."
Team Valor purchased Summer Soiree following her 10 3/4-length runaway in the Bourbonette Stakes (gr. IIIT) on Turfway Park's Polytrack in late March. She fared poorly in her next start, the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), though she had some excuses for her 10th-place effort, according to Motion.
"I think anytime they win like that on the Polytrack your mindset leads to turf," Motion said. "But certainly I think Barry bought her hoping that we could be competitive in the (Kentucky) Oaks. And to be honest I think she would have been had she not been bumped coming out of the gate. She’s a very aggressive filly and maybe when she got bumped coming out of the gate in the Kentucky Oaks she just got too strong and I think our race was over at that point."
That aggressiveness has paid off for Summer Soiree with four grand front-running scores. But in a race such as the Del Mar Oaks, which would appear to have plenty of early speed, it can also be a liability. Motion said that since having had the opportunity to work with her at spacious and relaxed Fair Hill, he has Summer Soiree "in sort of a different mindset" since the Kentucky Oaks.
"She’s so much more manageable. She was very difficult to train at Churchill where it’s very compact, very busy," he said. "She’s a very aggressive filly, I think she always will be, but I do think she has settled down a lot since May."
Gabriel Saez, who has ridden Summer Soiree in all 10 of her starts, has the call. They will break from post 3.
The first four finishers in the American Oaks at 10 furlongs at Hollywood Park July 16 were separated by just a neck. All four -- winners Nereid and Cambina, as well as Star Billing and Entrustment -- are back.
Nereid, a daughter of Rock Hard Ten trained by John Shirreffs for E.N. Kronfeld, set the pace in her stakes debut and held on gamely. The Irish-bred Cambina, who was forced to steady at the eighth pole, rallied late from between horses to reach even terms at the wire for trainer Jeff Bonde.
Star Billing, also from the Shirreffs barn, won the Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT) in May and followed that with a runner-up effort to Sarah's Secret in the Honeymoon. Entrustment seeks her first stakes triumph for Paddy Gallagher.
Bizzy Caroline, who was beaten by three-quarters of a length when fifth as the favorite in the American Oaks, will take on her Southern California rivals once again for trainer Ken McPeek. Bizzy Caroline was a clear winner of the Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs prior to the American Oaks.
In her only start since taking the Honeymoon in front-running style, Sarah's Secret disappointed in the San Clemente, finishing a well-beaten sixth for trainer Kathy Walsh behind Up In Time. The latter was winning her initial stakes by 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 11-1 for trainer Simon Callaghan.
Also in the field is Celestial Kitten, third in the San Clemente in her first start for trainer Ben Cecil after transferring from New York, and Irish-bred Singapore Lilly, who will need to do better than she has in her first two starts in the United States.
In an oddity, three Hall of Fame trainers are on the also eligible list: Jerry Hollendorfer (Halo Dolly), Ron McAnally (Rosehill Dew), and Richard Mandella (Dynamo).
$250,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Entrustment (KY), A Quinonez, P Gallagher
2. Star Billing (KY), V Espinoza, J A Shirreffs
3. Summer Soiree (KY), G Saez, H G Motion
4. Bizzy Caroline (KY), M R Cruz, K G McPeek
5. Sarah's Secret (KY), J Rosario, K Walsh
6. Celestial Kitten (KY), P A Valenzuela, B D Cecil
7. Cambina (IRE), G K Gomez, J Bonde
8. Singapore Lilly (IRE), M E Smith, J M Cassidy
9. Nereid (KY), J Talamo, J A Shirreffs
10. Up In Time (GB), R Bejarano, S Callaghan
11. Halo Dolly (CA), R A Baze, J Hollendorfer
12. Rosehill Dew (IRE), B Blanc, R L McAnally
13. Dynamo (KY), M A Pedroza, R E Mandella
All carry 122 pounds.