Gerson Racing was formed eight months ago with Miller and the dividends began to show at Hollywood Park. Then they teamed to win with their first four starters of the Del Mar meet and people really began to take note.
Miller, who led the trainer standings at the seaside track for the first couple of weeks, won his 11th race of the meeting with Set Play, a chestnut filly by Van Nistelrooy whom Gerson purchased for $105,000 at Ocala in March. Charleville Stables co-owns Set Play.
"It was just an incredible ride by by Brice," Gerson said proudly while holding the trophy aloft after the race. "Eight months ago we put together this team and it has paid off ten-fold."
Miller, who earned his first grade I stakes victory, added, "This was just a dream. I am so choked up right now. To win a race like the Del Mar Debutante is humbling."
Considering she ran second to the well-regarded Tasha's Miracle in the Sorrento Stakes (gr. III) on Polytrack -- the Debutante's major prep race -- in her last start, Set Play was seriously overlooked in the $250,000 Debutante. She went off at odds of 14-1.
The Sorrento result took on more significance for Set Play when Tasha's Miracle, the Debutante's morning line favorite, was declared out of the Debutante by trainer John Sadler on Sept. 2 after she tied up. Although there were a number of other quality fillies in the field of 12, not many could match the stakes credentials of Set Play, who also ran third in the Landaluce at Hollywood Park in her second start following a debut maiden victory over the Cushion Track in June.
"We've been trying to get her to relax and not move too early," Miller said. "She moved too early in the Landaluce and she showed too much speed to my liking in the Sorrento. Brice is a magician at getting horses to relax. He rode a tremendous race and I had the utmost confidence in him and in the filly, because he had worked her three times and he knew how good she was. And so did I. This is my first grade I. To win a grade I at Del Mar is just unbelievable."
Blanc, riding Set Play for the first time, settled his charge in the second flight of horses while off the rail as Ever So Pretty set off on a quick early pace (:22 2/5, :46 1/5) in the seven-furlong Debutante. Ididntmeantoo and Comical Vacation passed the pacesetter leaving the turn and Comical Vacation took a narrow lead at the head of the stretch.
Set Play, who followed Comical Vacation into the lane, was soon challenging the leader on her outside. After putting the fading Comical Vacation away, it appeared that she might be overtaken by the favorite Spring Awakening, closing brilliantly along the rail for Joe Talamo. But after Spring Awakening drew close mid-stretch, Talamo had to go to work on her to keep the pressure on. Set Play drew away in the final furlong for a two-length triumph.
"I'd worked this filly three times and I was delighted when Peter told me that the owners had talked and they said they liked what I did with her and they wanted me to ride," Blanc said. "She was ready to run today. I had a great trip. We were outside and just going nice and easy in a beautiful position. When the leaders started to come back to us she was ready to go. I waited as long as I could, then I asked her and she was very game. What a nice win."
Spring Awakening held off Izarra and Victor Espinoza for second by a half-length. The winning time on Polytrack was 1:26 3/5.
"The inside opened for me going for home and she went in there," Talamo said. "The winner just wouldn't come back to us."
Set Play's second win in four starts more than doubled her previous career earnings to $220,920. Out of the Bold Ruckus mare Boldly's Reflection, she was bred in Florida by veterinarian Carolin Von Rosenberg.
The winner paid $31.40, $11.40 and $6.80 as the sixth choice in the wagering. Spring Awakening, who was favored at 3-1 after a 5 1/2-length maiden win over California-bred fillies in her second start July 23, returned $5 and $3.60. The exacta was worth $176.40. Izarra was $3.20 to show.
Sunday Geisha finished fourth, followed by Wild Baby Girl, Comical Vacation, Sweet August Moon, Foxy Danseur, Magic Myth, Ididntmeantoo, Ever So Pretty and Treadmill. The Golden Noodle also scratched.