Chasing a moderate pace, Vacare had just one beaten rounding the final bend in the 1 1/16-mile test for fillies and mares and Nakatani had a decision to make. He took the long route, circling the field six wide as Gotta Have Her, tracking Vacare, went even wider for jockey Richard Migliore. The duo sparred practically the length of the stretch and they picked up Kris' Sis to their inside in the final furlong, the three competitors lunging for the wire together.
Vacare got the advantage in the last couple of strides to win by a half-length, while Kris' Sis, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, and Gotta Have Her finished in a dead heat for the runner-up spot. Ainamaa wound up fourth in the 10-horse field. The final time was a solid 1:40.64.
"I was back there with Vacare and I tried to move outside her and box her in," Migliore said. "But Corey saw me and he moved, too. I had to go outside him and that didn't help the cause. But she ran great."
New York-based trainer Christophe Clement, who has enjoyed quite a bit of success shipping west for stakes victories in the past couple of years, got the victory for locals Jon and Sarah Kelly. Clement won the 2002 Palomar with Voodoo Dancer.
It was the fourth graded stakes win for Vacare, a 5-year-old Lear Fan mare who was bred in Kentucky. Vacare won the Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (gr. IT) as a 3-year-old in 2006 and the First Lady Stakes (gr. IIT) last year, both at Keeneland. Off for eight months after the First Lady, Vacare was a little off her game in her first two starts back. She ran eighth in the Just A Game (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in her comeback race June 7, then finished fourth in the Diana Handicap (gr. IT) at Saratoga July 26.
Nakatani, who has ridden quite a few of Clement's horses in Southern California, said he spoke to the trainer prior to the Palomar.
"He said just to be patient," the jockey related. "So long as you save a little bit she'll give you a kick.
"At the quarter pole I was trying to slide out, slide out. I hadn't really asked her to run at that point, so I was confident. These stakes races – they don't give anything away. You've got to work for them. But she did the work, and we got it done."
Nakatani earned his 94th stakes win at Del Mar, tying him with Hall of Fame members Eddie Delahoussaye and Bill Shoemaker for third place on the track's all-time stakes winner list for riders. He is also now only two stakes winners behind Laffit Pincay, Jr. for second place on the list.
Moujane had the early lead through the early stages before Forest Melody took over on the front end. Fractions were :23.90, :47.53 and 1:11.12. Moujane regained the lead in upper stretch briefly but she was swarmed by several rivals. It was Vacare, between horses after her wide journey into contention under top weight of 119 pounds, who proved best.
"When the winner came up outside me, my horse tried again," Bejarano said of Kris' Sis. "But (Vacare) was just a little better. My horse ran great, but got beat."
Vacare earned her seventh win in 11 starts and closed in on the $1 million mark in career earnings with $990,456. The bay was bred by Lothenbach Stables out of the Valid Appeal mare Appealing Storm.
She paid $5.20, $3 and $2.80. Kris' Sis, who ran third in the Palomar last year, returned $2.60 and $3.40. Gotta Have Her, rebounding from a 10th-place showing in the Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. IIT) last time out for trainer Jenine Sahadi, paid $3.40 and $4.40.
Ainamaa was followed by Zardana, Moujane, Ransom Captive, America's Friend, Forest Melody and Live Life.
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