Ultra Blend, an ultra-consistent California-bred 5-year-old mare, became a grade I winner with a hard-fought neck victory over Zazu in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar (VIDEO).
Tyler Baze rode Ultra Blend to victory, his first grade I win since returning from a serious eye injury sustained in July 2010 at Del Mar. Baze, who returned to action April 28 at Hollywood Park, delivered the daughter of Richly Blended to the winner's circle for 74-year-old trainer Art Sherman and owner Nels Erickson.
"Four months ago, I didn't even know if I could ride again," Baze told TVG immediately afterward. "Now my vision is great and this is my first grade I since I've been back. It feels awesome."
The winner was the longest shot on the board at odds of 10-1. Ultra Blend has finished in the money in 21 of 23 lifetime starts, winning 11.
”She’s just one of those game, tryin’ fillies," the affable Sherman said after winning his first stakes of the Del Mar meet. "She doesn’t get a lot of respect being a Cal-bred running against open company. But she should get some Cal-bred award this year, don’t you think?”
Ultra Blend, bred by BnD Chase Thoroughbreds and Elven Adams, earned an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs as part of the "Win and You're In" challenge series.
Zazu, the grade I-winning 3-year-old filly owned by Jerry and Moss, finished second. Zazu was trying to give the Mosses' their fourth consecutive Hirsch win after Zenyatta won the race from 2008-10. Switch, the odds-on favorite in a field reduced to five by a pair of scratches, finished third.
The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event was a solid 1:42.28 over Del Mar's Polytrack, four ticks off the track mark established by Zenyatta in winning the Hirsch in 2008.
Baze was content to let Ultra Blend lag at the rear of the small pack as Freedom Star took a clear early advantage over Switch and Zazu while clipping off soft quarter-mile fractions of :24.36, :48.40, and 1:12.08. Rounding the final turn, Baze gave Ultra Blend a nudge and the game mare was soon in contention while racing five wide.
It was anyone's race as the field progressed down the stretch with Switch holding a head's advantage over Ultra Blend at the eighth pole. But Ultra Blend on the far outside and Zazu, racing at the rail for Garrett Gomez, took over late. Baze gave Ultra Blend a crack of the whip in deep stretch and she fought on to win a courageous fight to the wire.
It was a tough loss for Zazu, who was attempting to become the first 3-year-old to win the Clement Hirsch in 41 renewals. Dual grade I winner Switch, finishing one length farther back as the 7-10 pick, surpassed $1 million in career earnings for owner C R K Stable. John Sadler saddled both Zazu and Switch.
“I didn’t want to be on the fence, but the way it unfolded that’s where I wound up" Gomez lamented afterward in discussing Zazu's trip. "I had to wait with her. If I’d have gotten out sooner I’m going to win. Too bad.”
St Trinians ran fourth, with Freedom Star trailing.
Ultra Blend was coming off a runner-up finish by the narrowest of noses to Irish Gypsy in the seven-furlong A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park July 16. She won the 1 1/16-mile Milady Handicap (gr. II) on the disqualification of St Trinians over the same track May 21 for her first graded stakes tally. The bay mare has now won nine of 14 starts on synthetic tracks and is three-for-four at the 1 1/16-mile distance.
“At Hollywood Park that was a tough beat (in the A Gleam)," said Sherman. "I had to go home and have two martinis after that photo."
Out of the Desert Classic mare Ankha, she has banked $845,646 with the winning purse of $180,000.
Ultra Blend carried 121 pounds and paid $23.60, $7, $2.80. Zazu, winner of the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) in her last start, returned $3.80 and $2.20, and completed a $78.80 exacta. Switch, now with four consecutive runner-up efforts in grade I events since her win in the Santa Monica Stakes (gr. I) in January, was $2.10 to show.
In the head-to-head wager offered by Del Mar in the feature race each Saturday, Ultra Blend defeated St Trinians and paid $4.60 for a $2 bet. The pool was $26,505.