Favored Skyway, a recent shipper from Churchill Downs, gave trainer Mark Casse his first victory at Del Mar Aug. 3 with a confident ride by Stewart Elliott in the $200,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) for 2-year-olds.
Skyway completed the 6 1/2-furlong trip in 1:16.67 over the Polytrack, defeating Henry's Holiday by 1 1/4 lengths, with Bad Read Sanchez third. The race sets Skyway up as a major contender for the meet-ending Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) at seven furlongs Sept. 3.
A son of Sky Mesa owned by John Oxley, Skyway was the only starter in the Best Pal field with a prior synthetic track victory, an impressive effort in his debut at Keeneland in April that he won by 6 3/4 lengths. In his next start June 28 at Churchill, Skyway finished third with some trouble in the Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III).
Bred in New York by Sugar Maple Farm and H. Lewis Rapaport, Skyway is out of the 17-year-old Dr. Blum stakes-winning mare Bedside Manner. The chestnut colt was purchased for $165,000 by Casse through consignor St. George Sales at last October's Fasig-Tipton Kentucky yearling sale.
Casse, a six-time Sovereign Award winner as champion trainer in Canada, had not won at Del Mar, but his horses had been performing well in his first extended stay in Southern California. Going into Sunday's races, Casse had placed with six of 11 starters.
"I was just wanting any win, but to do it in a grade II is very special," said Casse, who is enoying his first season at the seaside track. "As long as horses run good, that's all you can ask for. Any other place if I go 0-for-10—at Woodbine it happens all the time—people would have been yelling for me to go back home. At New York it would have happened about five starts ago. But here, everybody's been wonderful."
Two scratches left a field of six with Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes winner Story to Tell vying for favoritism with Skyway, both at 2-1. Bad Read Sanchez also was well fancied at 3-1.
Skyway settled in fourth out of the gate for Elliott while racing on the outside as Two Six Wins set off at a fast clip while tracked by Bad Read Sanchez and Story to Tell. After a :22.20 opening quarter mile, Skyway advanced into third, still racing on the outside after a half mile in :45.23. The race was over early for Story to Tell, who was quite washy going to the gate and lost his action on the turn.
Coming out of the bend, Two Six Wins gave way and Bad Read Sanchez took over under Mario Gutierrez, opening up a clear advantage. But Skyway, never far away from the leaders, gobbled up ground to sweep past Bad Read Sanchez at the sixteenth pole and was in control heading for the wire. He held off the late-running Henry's Holiday and Tyler Baze under some left-handed urging by Elliott.
Elliott, recording his first stakes win at Del Mar, said Skyway probably appreciated a return to Polytrack.
"He broke well, we were in a good spot and he was comfortable. When I asked him (in the stretch), he responded well. He was a little green there. He was wanting to lean in changing his leads (in the stretch). Part of maturing. He'll learn and go on from here."
Henry's Holiday finished one length in front of his Doug O'Neill stablemate for the minor placings. Highway Boss ran on for fourth, followed by Two Six Wins and Story to Tell, who was not persevered with in the stretch by jockey Joe Talamo.
Baze, looking for career victory 2,000 Sunday, had three seconds on the card.
"This one is a nice colt," he said of Henry's Holiday. "And watch out when we hit two turns. Then you'll see him shine."
Skyway earned $120,000 for his second win in three tries, and he has now banked $157,390. He had posted two works over the Del Mar main track since the Bashford Manor, most recently posting a five-furlong drill in 1:00 4/5 July 26.
He becomes the first graded stakes winner for his dam Bedside Manner, who has produced seven winners from nine foals to race. Skyway is a half brother to the Dixie Union filly Ava K., a graded-placed multiple stakes winner of $201,467.
Carrying 119 pounds, Skyway paid $6.20, $3.60, and $2.80 while topping a $27.60 exacta. Henry's Holiday, fourth in the Santa Anita Juvenile June 22 following a debut maiden win in May for Success Racing, returned $4.40 and $3.20. Bad Read Sanchez, second in the Willard Proctor last time, paid $3. to show.
Scratched were the Casse-trained Conquest Bigluck E and the Peter Miller trainee Rowdy Dylan.