Guided through a smooth trip by Rafael Bejarano, Istanford led every step of the way at 10-1 odds to dominate the $200,000 San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) on the renovated turf course at Del Mar July 19 (VIDEO).
The Mike Stidham-trained daughter of Istan took advantage of a newly widened grass course that has been favoring speed, bettering 11 other 3-year-old fillies in the first graded stakes of the new Del Mar season. Winning by 2 1/2 lengths, she completed the one-mile journey in a sharp 1:33.83.
Two starts before Saturday's race the big dark bay or brown filly, owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash and Janet and Sam Alley, defeated 3-year-old males with a front-running trip in the Arlington Classic (gr. IIIT) May 24. In her most recent start June 14, she set the pace before giving way between horses in the roughly run Regret Stakes (gr. IIIT) at nine furlongs on the Churchill Downs turf.
Making her Southern California debut, Istanford improved to 3-for-3 at the one-mile distance on turf.
Tepin, an 18-1 outsider, came on for second in the San Clemente, with her Mark Casse-trained stablemate My Conquestadory, finishing third as the narrow 5-2 second choice. Favored Diversy Harbor rallied belatedly along the inside for fourth.
Bejarano, the two-time defending riding champion at Del Mar, had been sidelined since May 10 after a bad spill at Santa Anita resulted in a broken collar bone, broken ribs, and fractures of both shoulder blades. The native of Peru returned to action when the current meet opened July 17, and has now won the San Clemente in three of the past four years.
"This felt good. I'm feeling stronger now," Bejarano said. "When I rode here opening day, I felt good to ride, but not 100%. I'm feeling better now. I've been working hard and riding races gets you back in shape. Winning a stakes is very good. Good for my confidence. I'm back now."
Istanford took command through the stretch the first time and showed the way while maintaining a comfortable two-length advantage over Sheza Smoke Show through a half-mile, running splits of :23.13 and :46.70. Miss Machiavelli, Tepin, and Morning Fix moved into striking position around the far turn as Istanford reached the quarter pole in 1:10.14. Meanwhile Diversy Harbor and My Conquestadory, unhurried in the early going, began their advance.
But Istanford remained in control at the top of the lane and showed no signs of slowing down as Tepin emerged from between horses under Stewart Elliott and gave vain chase. My Conquestadory, saddled with the far outside post and racing wide throughout for Victor Espinoza, struggled through the stretch while saving the show spot from the oncoming Diversy Harbor. The favorite came up short again after running second in the American Oaks (gr. IT) last time out.
"I knew there was other speed in the race and I wasn't expecting to be on the lead," Bejarano said. "But my filly broke so well and went right to the front and I just let her go. She was relaxed out there; she was running easy. That's why she had that nice kick at the end. She wasn't running that hard."
Istanford, bred in Florida by Amy Tarrant's Hardacre Farm out of the winning Tale of the Cat mare Aerocat, now has four wins and two seconds from 10 starts, with earnings of $328,365.
She was a $25,000 purchase by Ike and Dawn Thrash at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. Florida summer yearling sale in 2012, when consigned by Summerfield, agent.
The San Clemente is the major local prep stakes for the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) over 1 1/8 miles Aug. 16.
"Obviously, she loves this firm turf here," Stidham said. "We'll see (what's next). We always nominate to a lot of stakes and we'll be looking around. But the way she ran on this turf course, it's (staying at Del Mar) something to think about."
Carrying 120 pounds, Istanford paid $22.80, $10.80, and $7 across the board, keying a $273.20 exacta. Tepin, who ran into all kinds of traffic trouble in the Regret last time and finished eighth, rebounded well to return $17.20 and $9.40 for the place. My Conquestadory, looking to recapture her outstanding 2-year-old form, was undoubtedly compromised by her post and paid $3.60 to show.
Diversy Harbor was followed by Sushi Empire, Tiz Kissable, Sandiva, Miss Machiavelli, Concave, Morning Fix, Tiz the Key, and Sheza Smoke Show, who had broken through the gate prior to the start of the race and had to be re-loaded.