Favored Vagabond Shoes, circling the field under Victor Espinoza, reached the lead in deep stretch to edge Lucayan by half a length in the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 24 on the turf (VIDEO).
A two-time group III winner in France, the improving Vagabond Shoes won for the first time in six United States starts for trainer John Sadler and owner Kosta Hronis. He snapped a seven-race losing streak.
The 6-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Beat Hollow was second to Jeranimo in the Eddie Read Stakes (gr. IT) at 23-1 odds on the Del Mar turf July 20 and was being asked to go a quarter of a mile farther in the Del Mar Handicap. But the added distance proved to be no detriment.
In beating a mediocre field, the 2-1 favorite in the 1 3/8-mile event was timed in 2:11.94 on firm ground. It was less than a second off the course mark of 2:11.14 established in 2008 by Spring House in the same race.
"I knew I was on the best horse today," Espinoza said. "I just had to stay out of trouble. When you ride a horse like this, you have a lot of confidence. I asked him and he went."
The Del Mar Handicap carries an automatic fees-paid berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) for Vagabond Shoes under the "Win & You're In" challenge series sponsored by the Cup.
"We bought him out of the 'Arc sale last year," Sadler said. "It's a very good racing age sale the day before the Arc de Triomphe. (Bloodstock agent) Hubert Guy called and I green-lighted him. The way he ran the other day in the mile and an eighth (Eddie Read) and finished very well, I thought he was ready to do it. As the season has gone on he has acclimated (to the U.S.) We'll definitely look at the Breeders' Cup."
Sadler and Espinoza won the Del Mar Handicap for the second time in three years after teaming with Celtic New Year in 2011.
Espinoza had Vagabond Shoes at the back of the six-horse field alongside Lucayan as Mr T Bird went to the front on the inside of Fire With Fire. Old Time Hockey and Huntsville stalked in third and fourth, respectively.
Mr T Bird set a solid tempo considering the distance, clipping off quarter-mile fractions of :24.19, :48, 1:12.33, and 1:36.31 before Fire With Fire took over briefly rounding the final turn.
Vagabond Shoes, rallying on the outside, went four or five paths wide to challenge Huntsville for the lead near midstretch with Lucayan also making good progress along the inside. Vagabond Shoes gained a narrow lead inside in the final furlong and dug in to the wire under urging from Espinoza to gamely prevail.
The French-bred Lucayan was second under Garrett Gomez, a half-length in front of Huntsville and Corey Nakatani. Old Time Hockey, forced to wait for running room in the stretch, was fourth, followed by Fire With Fire and Mr T Bird.
Vagabond Shoes was bred by Almagro De Actividades Comerciales S A. out of the Singspiel mare Atiza. Both of his group wins in France came at one mile.
Transferred from France for the 2013 campaign, Vagabond Shoes showed little in his first three starts for Sadler in graded-stakes company in Southern California. A runner-up finish in an allowance/optional claiming race at Betfair Hollywood Park in which he was beaten by a nose by Willyconker May 25 signaled a return to form, however. He came back about two months later with another good effort in the Eddie Read.
"He's a lot of horse," said Hronis, whose Hronis Racing leads the owner standings at the current Del Mar meet. "The first two times (in the U.S.) we didn't see the real him. He was hot, he was sweaty, he was upset to be here.
"The distance was the big question and he pulled it off. John (Sadler) had a lot of confidence in him. I was a little surprised we even signed up for it."
Overall, Vagabond Shoes owns a record of 7-4-3 in 26 lifetime races with earnings of $425,497.
Carrying top weight of 119 pounds, Vagabond Shoes paid $6, $3.20, and $2.40. He keyed a $19.20 exacta with Lucayan, another recent French import who now competes for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale. Lucayan returned $4 and $3.20 as the 5-2 second choice. Huntsville, the longest shot in the field at 13-1, paid $4.40.
Holding Glory, also entered in the TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 25 by trainer A. C. Avila, was scratched.