Wishing Gate, who broke her maiden at Del Mar last September, returned to the seaside track July 21 for her first stakes win, a smart 1 3/4-length score for Gary Stevens in the $151,000 San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO).
Trained by Tom Proctor for owner/breeder Leonard Lavin's Glen Hill Farm, Wishing Gate was coming off a two-length tally in an allowance/optional claiming event June 23 going a mile on the Arlington Park turf.
The daughter of Indian Charlie completed the one-mile test for 3-year-old fillies in a sparkling 1:33.58, just off the stakes-record time of 1:33.54 established by Storm Mesa in 2008. Wishing Gate became the 75th stakes winner for her deceased sire.
The Florida-bred bay filly is out of the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Rich in Spirit, by Repriced.
Stevens won the San Clemente, a steppingstone to the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) Aug. 17, twice previously with Darby's Daughter (1989) and Nijinsky's Lover (1990).
The Hall of Fame rider had been aboard Wishing Gate once before, a troubled eighth-place effort in a first-level allowance on the Keeneland sod April 21. That was the first start of the year for Wishing Gate, who has posted two wins and a second in three starts since.
"This gets me right; this redeems me," said Stevens, who continues to have great success since coming out of retirement this year. "I absolutely butchered her. Cost her the race, for sure. So to win this one today on her helps make up for that one. She's a good filly and she's progressing.
"It sure is great to be winning at the highest level. That's why I came back. To win one at Del Mar is special. And I know this track is special for Mr. Lavin."
Proctor said the Del Mar Oaks would be a likely spot for Wishing Gate's return.
Wishing Gate got a dream stalking trip while racing fifth with cover along the rail as Unusual Way went to the front from her inside post at a good clip and led Lilbourne Eliza and 8-5 favorite Iotapa, making her turf debut. After a quick opening quarter mile for Russell Baze in :22.49, Unusual Way settled down on the backstretch, getting the half mile in :46.09 and reaching the quarter pole in 1:10.16 still 1 1/2 lengths in front.
Unusual Way was in control coming off the final turn as Wishing Gate swung into gear from the rail for Stevens, who would angle her through an opening off the rail as Lilbourne Eliza tired. Wishing Gate quickly pounced upon Unusual Way, who was under strong urging from Baze, and poked her head in front at mid-stretch. She finished well clear under Stevens' encouragment to handily defeat Unusual Way, who gamely clung to second by 1 1/4 lengths over Iotapa.
"This was a very professional race for her," Baze said of the runner-up. "She made the lead and relaxed. Then she fired when asked. I had to use her a little bit to make that lead and I know that didn't help at the end. But that filly that beat us ran by us strong.
Charlie Em was fourth, followed by Judy In Disguise, Lilbourne Eliza, Disko Dasko, Miss Empire, and Kyriaki.
Wishing Gate improved her record to 3-2-0 in eight races with earnings of $185,344.
She carried 116 pounds and paid $12, $5.60, and $3.80 as the third choice. Wishing Gate topped a $60.60 exacta with Unusual Way, who won a stakes in her first start on turf in her most recent try June 1 at Golden Gate Fields. The Jeff Bonde-trained daughter of Unusual Heat returned $4.80 and $3.60. Iotapa, second in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) on Cushion Track last time out, paid $3.20 to show as the 120-pound highweight.