Gabriel Charles (VIDEO) and Ethnic Dance (VIDEO) used different tactics to get there, but both were winners in separate divisions of the $250,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Sept. 1.
The race, at 1 1/8 miles on turf, was split into divisions when 24 sophomores passed the entry box earlier in the week. It marked the first time that had happened since 1970, also the first year the race was contested on turf.
In winning the late division, Ethnic Dance led all the way from his inside post under Edwin Maldonado in his graded stakes debut to defeat Infinite Magic and Den's Legacy by 1 1/4 lengths in a slow time of 1:48.24.
Ethnic Dance is homebred for Jenny Craig's Craig Stables, who own the son of Tribal Rule in partnership with Michael Bello. The dark bay or brown colt is out of the Chester House mare House of Danzing and is a half brother to grade I winner Twirling Candy , who captured the 2010 Del Mar Derby.
John Sadler, leading the Del Mar trainer standings heading into the final two programs of the meet, conditions Ethnic Dance and also was in charge of the temperamental Twirling Candy.
"It didn't look like there was a lot of speed when I was handicapping the race, so I told Edwin I would be very happy if he was out in front or sitting second on a slow pace," Sadler said. "He rode a good race. He really kept him relaxed and this is an improving horse."
Allowed to set an easy pace at odds of nearly 6-1, Ethnic Dance, after posting fractions of :24.66, :49.45, and 1:13.80, proved too tough to catch in the stretch. He held off the closing Infinite Magic, who shipped into Del Mar off a victory in the American Derby (gr. IIIT) at Arlington Park for Team Valor International, with the stalking Den's Legacy a neck farther back in third.
Stewards reviewed the stretch run, in which Ethnic Dance appeared to come over on Den's Legacy at the rail, but made no change in the order of finish.
"I knew I was going slow out there and I was loving it," said Maldonado, who rode Ethnic Dance for the first time while in place of Rafael Bejarano. "When we hit the half-mile pole, I knew I was on the horse to beat. Every time one of them would inch up to him, he'd let out a notch; all on his own. He's a nice horse and he's very game."
California-bred Ethnic Dance has won three in a row since breaking his maiden against state-bred competition on the turf at Betfair Hollywood Park July 14. He was coming off a restricted allowance/optional claiming win Aug. 3 over the Del Mar turf.
Ethnic Dance paid $13.80, $7.20, and $5 as the fourth choice in the field of 10. He keyed a $119.80 exacta with Infinite Magic, who returned $7.40 and $4.20. Den's Legacy, second in the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 10 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, paid $4.60 to show.
Kid Dreams finished a nose behind Den's Legacy in fourth, while La Jolla victor Dice Flavor, the slight 9-2 favorite, was unable to make an impact behind the slow splits and wound up last of 10.
In the first division, 19-10 favorite Gabriel Charles appreciated the extra ground after being denied by a head in a division of the opening day Oceanside Stakes division with Mike Smith back aboard. The late-running son of Street Hero rallied from seventh on the final turn while four wide in the stretch and gained the lead past the eighth pole to defeat Gervinho by 1 1/4 lengths, with pacesetter Redwood Kitten a head back in third.
Gervinho, forced to angle out for room in the stretch under Rafael Bejarano, was a bit unlucky as Gabriel Charles had the cleaner trip.
This was the first graded stakes win for Gabriel Charles, who is conditioned by Jeff Mullins for owners Sam Britt and Michael House. Doris E. Tummillo bred the bay colt in Kentucky out of the stakes-placed Atticus mare Star of Atticus. Gabriel Charles sold for $160,000 as a 2-year-old in training at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company in April 2012.
"I wore this tie so that if we didn't win I could hang myself," said Mullins, who donned a suit for the occasion of his first stakes win at the meet. "Mike made about two or three moves in there, but he said he was doing it comfortably and that made his job easy. It's gratifying to know he'll go two turns, which has always been kind of a question mark with this horse. I don't know if it was by design the way Mike rode him last time, but he figured out something about him and it sure worked."
Timed in 1:46.94 over firm going, Gabriel Charles won for the third time in six starts with a pair of seconds. He has earned $289,800 in his career after making his seasonal debut in the July 17 Oceanside.
Gabriel Charles paid $5.80, $3.60, and $3, topping a $41.20 exacta. Gervinho, winner of the first division of the Oceanside, returned $6.20 and $4.20. Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Redwood Kitten paid $6.40 to show.
Redwood Kitten set fractions of :23.80, :48.26, and 1:12.35 before being headed past the furlong marker by the winner.
"Jeff and his crew have done a wonderful job turning this colt around," Smith said of Gabriel Charles. "They took the blinkers off and got him to settle. He's always had a nice turn of foot, but he used to fire it early. Now they've got him waiting and firing at the end. I had a good trip today and it all worked out right.
"When we came through the lane, I just waved the stick at him. The other day when I hit him (in the Oceanside), the first time he responded. But then the next time he just got mad. So I let him do his own thing today."