Starlarks flew from last for jockey Alex Solis to head Strawberry Tart in the final couple of jumps, winning the $150,000 San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) by a nose in an 11-1 surprise at Del Mar Aug. 1.
The Irish-bred filly, beaten by Strawberry Tart in her prior start, was the ultimate beneficiary of a sizzling pace duel in the one-mile San Clemente for 3-year-old fillies, the major prep for the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) on Aug. 22. Trained by Paddy Gallagher for Dolantori Racing, Starlarks was making her American graded stakes debut.
Last of 10 for much of the journey after a slow beginning, Starlarks passed six rivals in the stretch after being angled six wide rounding the final turn by Solis. While they gave up quite a bit of ground on Del Mar's tight turn, closing from so far wide may have been a blessing in disguise since there was quite a bit of jostling to Starlarks' inside.
As Oilgonewile backed up after pressing the pacesetter Carlsbad for six furlongs, things got crowded quickly as several charged from the rear of the pack. Strawberry Tart, in third with Martin Garcia aboard, appeared to bump with Acting Lady as they came into the stretch. Strawberry Tart eventually emerged with a short lead after overtaking an exhausted Carlsbad mid-stretch, but the charging Starlarks prevailed in a terrific finish. The final time was 1:33.82 on a firm course.
“We got squeezed a little bit at the break and that could have been the best thing that could have happened to us," Solis said. "She took herself back and the way they were going up front, it couldn’t have been better. We always thought she could be this kind of filly; she was just a little immature -- needed to do some growing up. But she might have done some of that today. This was an ideal race for her.”
Hameildaeme also closed well and nipped the late-running Internallyflawless by a nose for third, 1 1/4 lengths behind the first two.
The 2-1 favorite Carlsbad was coming off a win in the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) on Cushion Track and had won six of seven previous starts, five in stakes. But the talented filly's chances were severely compromised in her turf bow when jockey Tyler Baze could not get her to relax early while they were pushed along by Oilgonewile. The result was suicidal quarter-mile splits of :21.57, :45.14, and 1:09.60. Carlsbad faded to finish fifth.
“She heard him smooching," said Baze, referring to jockey David Flores on Oilgonewile, "and when she did she was gone. He was sending away from there and when he did, my filly was going too. When we got over to the backside I got her to come back to me, but by then it was too late. She’d already gone :21. It was suicide.”
Starlarks ran fourth to Strawberry Tart in the Flawlessly Stakes on Hollywood Park's lawn at the one-mile distance in their last race July 3. She finished 2 1/4 lengths behind the winner that day but was gaining mildly through the stretch run. That was her only prior U.S. stakes start in a six-race record, which included a nose victory in an optional claiming allowance race at Hollywood immediately before the Flawlessly.
In Great Britain, the daughter of Mujahid--Violet, by Mukaddamah, had two wins (one coming on a synthetic track) and two seconds in seven starts. She ran eighth in a group III event in her final European start at Newmarket last fall. Overall, Starlarks' record stands at 4-2-2 in 14 outings with earnings of $171,237, including $90,000 for her San Clemente triumph.
“When I saw the early fractions, I was feeling good, but I’m sure the others were, too," Gallagher said. "Alex thought she could do this. She’s been in a lot of trouble in her races, but today he got her in the clear and she finished strong.”
The trainer added: “She’s eligible for the (Del Mar) Oaks. It would be quite a step up for her, but maybe she can do it.”
Stourbank Stud bred Starlarks.
She carried 116 pounds -- four fewer than the top-weighted Carlsbad -- and paid $24.60, $9.80, and $5.60 as the fifth choice. Strawberry Tart, the narrow second choice off back-to-back stakes victories on the Hollywood turf, returned $3.80 and $3.20. A $2 exacta was worth $98.80.
“Tough beat. For a second there I thought I had it,” said Garcia of the runner-up.
The British-bred Hameildaeme, in her initial American stakes race for trainer James Lloyd, was $7.20 to show. Hameildaeme refused to load in the starting gate, delaying the start for several minutes.
Internallyflawless was followed by Carlsbad, Acting Lady, Kaweah Princess, Nan, Fastongrass, and Oilgonewile. Wake Me Now was scratched off the also eligible list.