Judy the Beauty, able to sit off a hot pace duel, swung into action in the stretch and inched away to a clear victory in the $147,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) (VIDEO) Aug. 17 at Del Mar.
Back on her preferred Polytrack surface off a 3 1/2-month layoff, the grade I winner scored by 1 1/4 lengths over the late-running Madame Cactus, with pace rivals Reneesgotzip and Amaranth bringing up the rear. The field was reduced to four by a pair of scratches.
In winning for the sixth time from seven tries on synthetic tracks, Judy the Beauty was timed in 1:15.63 with Mike Smith aboard. The clocking was more than a second off the track mark established by Reneesgotzip when she won last year's Rancho Bernardo in 1:14.48 by 4 1/4 lengths.
"Impressive; extremely impressive," said the Hall of Fame rider. "I've been wanting to ride this mare for a long time. I finally got to and it sure looks like I picked the right day. She's something. She can run with any of them. Boys, too. Look out!"
Wesley Ward owns and trains Judy the Beauty, a 5-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper out of the stakes-winning Holy Bull mare Holy Blitz.
The winning chestnut mare was bred in Ontario, Canada, by Adena Springs. This was the first start at Del Mar for Judy the Beauty, who won the Madison Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack at Keeneland in April.
The 4-5 favorite, Reneesgotzip, was making her first start in 9 1/2 months and had much difficulty. She bobbled at the start for Corey Nakatani but recovered quickly while chasing Amaranth through fast quarter mile splits of :21.96 and :44.78 as Judy Beauty, the 13-10 second choice, sat about five lengths behind for a patient Smith.
Reneesgotzip was floated out in the stretch by Amaranth as she reached even terms with the front-runner but Judy the Beauty, angled out for the drive, was quickly alongside at midstretch. Amaranth and Reneesgotzip were involved in some bumping but both appeared tired by that point as Judy the Beauty edged past and went on to victory under steady handling from Smith.
"She stumbled (away from the gate), but picked herself back up and got in the race," Nakatani said of Reneesgotzip. "I'd say she ran dynamite. It was a good start for her."
Madame Cactus, after a slow break, was second best under Joe Talamo, finishing 2 3/4 lengths in front of Reneesgotzip. Stewards reviewed the stretch run but opted to make no change in the order of finish.
Judy the Beauty earned her third win in four tries this year. She was making her first appearance since weakening to fourth in the seven-furlong Human Distaff (gr. I) May 3 at Churchill Downs, where she had continued to train after a freshening.
"She's a little older now and she doesn't like to be rushed," said Blake Heap, Ward's assistant. "The last race at Churchill Downs, John Velazquez was kind of worried about the lead horse getting away and pushed her a little. This race (Smith) let them go, just let her settle and that's what she wants to do now. I thought she ran perfect."
Runner-up in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I), the wonderfully consistent mare is now 8-7-1 in 17 starts overall with earnings of $1,112,122. Four of her victories have come in graded stakes, and she has grade I placings in four other races.
The 125-pound highweight in the Rancho Bernardo, Judy the Beauty paid $4.60 and $2.60. Mr. and Mrs. Marc C. Ferrell's Madame Cactus, winner of the Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland last October, returned $3.60 in her first start of the year. There was no show wagering. The exacta was worth $18.