Celtic New Year, coming from off the pace, got through an opening in the stretch and held off heavy favorite Bourbon Bay and Imponente Purse in a tight finish in the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) on the turf Aug. 28 (VIDEO).
Registering his first graded stakes win for trainer John Sadler, Celtic New Year secured a starting berth in the Emirates Airline Breeders Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in November as part of the "Win and You're In" Challenge series.
Michael Jawl owns the 4-year-old gelded son of North Light --Reggae Queen, by Dynaformer. Adena Springs bred the winner in Kentucky.
Sadler said he and Jawl intend to take advantage of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series invitation. “The ‘Win and You’re In’ makes a difference because it’s $90,000 (in entry fees)," he said. "We’ll go on to (Santa Anita Park) and then the Breeders’ Cup.”
Celtic New Year, carrying 114 pounds with Victor Espinoza aboard, covered the 1 3/8-mile distance in 2:14.92 on firm going, nipping Bourbon Bay by a head. Imponente Purse, who defeated Celtic New Year in winning the Sunset Handicap (gr. IIT) at Hollywood Park July 17, was another head back in third.
Saving ground while stalking pacesetter Make Music for Me and Bourbon Bay, Celtic New Year angled off the rail for the stretch charge and slipped between horses to get the lead. He inched away to lead by one length at mid-stretch, then dug in as Bourbon Bay, ridden by Joe Talamo, charged hard on the outside.
Bourbon Bay, off at odds of 7-10, looked to be sweeping past at the sixteenth-pole. But Celtic New Year fought back from between horses as Imponente Purse bid along the inside for Chantal Sutherland in deep stretch. Celtic New Year prevailed gamely under strong urging from Espinoza.
“I was down there inside and I thought I was going to get through. I always think I’m going to get through," Espinoza said. "I did and this horse fired. He has just been getting better.”
Fractions for the distance turf test were :49.73 for the half-mile, 1:39.18 for the mile, and 2:03.39 for 10 furlongs.
Celtic New Year returned $11, $4.20, and $2.80. It was his fifth win in 17 starts, and first money of $120,000 increased his career bankroll to $294,422.
The bay has been knocking on the door for a graded stakes win in his previous three starts. Most recently third in the Sunset, he ran second prior to that in the Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT) at 10 furlongs June 11 and third in the about 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita in April.
Sadler said Jawl decided to transfer Celtic New Year to California from Kentucky late last year.
“We got him here in California and he just started to come around and got better as the year went on," Sadler said." We thought he was a good third in the San Juan Capistrano and we thought he was a very good third (actually second) in the Whittingham.
“We were favored in the Sunset and he ran third, but he has proven himself to be a very good horse in these distance races. We just saved him for this race late in the meet and it worked out.”
Bourbon Bay, who has already qualified for the Breeders' Cup Marathon (gr. II) by winning the Cougar II Handicap (gr. II) July 29 at Del Mar, returned $2.60 and $2.10, and completed a $20.80 exacta.
“He ran good," Talamo said of the 5-year-old Sligo Bay gelding. "I had the winner trapped down inside, but Rafael (Bejarano on leader Make Music for Me) floated me out and let him through. That was the difference. If he doesn’t make that move, I win.”