Healthy Addiction and Victor Espinoza win the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap,  Sunday at Del Mar.

Healthy Addiction and Victor Espinoza win the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap, Sunday at Del Mar.


Healthy Addiction Happiest in Clement Hirsch

Pamela Ziebarth's Healthy Addiction put away the challenge of even-money favorite Happy Ticket mid-stretch and went on to a 1 3/4-length victory in the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares at Del Mar Sunday.

Ridden by Victor Espinoa, the gritty Healthy Addiction was close to a moderate pace throughout, but was more than ready when the much-traveled Louisiana invader drove up on her outside for the battle to the wire, pulling away while drifting out a bit to win in a solid time of 1:42 4/5 for the 1 1/16-mile event.

"When I saw (Maryfield) use her speed, I just took a hold and waited," Espinoza said. "I wanted to wait until the end, to save it for when it counted. When I turned for home I had a ton of horse under me. I knew about (Happy Ticket), but I wasn't concerned about her. The way my horse was running, I didn't have to be."

John Sadler trains the 5-year-old Boston Harbor mare who loves racing at Del Mar. She has won all three of her starts at the seaside track, including a grass stakes last year. She was coming off a tough half-length loss to Hirsch rival Hollywood Story in the nine-furlong Vanity Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park July 2.

"Victor held his position beautifully and she had enough left to hold off a really good mare (Happy Ticket)," Sadler said.

With just five starters Sunday – Somethinaboutlaura was an early scratch – Healthy Addiction was never far off the pace set by the sprinter Maryfield, who was able to settle into an easy clip of :23, :46 3/5 and 1:11. On the far turn, Healthy Addiction moved up on the outside for Espinoza and edged away at the head of the lane.

Happy Ticket, who had not had an easy journey under Julien Leparoux – racing on the outside of four horses into the first turn and swinging out for a four-wide move to get into contention – closed with determination to nearly reach even terms. But Espinoza went to work on Healthy Addiction and they were able to draw off in the final sixteenth of a mile.

Coming off a win by a head in Churchill's Fleur de Lis (gr. II) June 17, Happy Ticket has had a busy campaign for trainer Andrew Leggio Jr.

"She handled the track just fine and she made her move for me," Leparoux said. "But she didn't kick in at the end like she did last time. She got a bit tired at the end."

Star Parade, who settled off the early pace for Martin Pedroza, was in prime contention as the field straightened away for the stretch run but wasn't able to match strides and fell back to third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Happy Ticket. Hollywood Story, lacking the sort of pace she needs to make her closing kick successful, finished fourth, 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner.

"I put pressure on the winner at the half mile pole, but the best horse won this time," Pedroza said.

Healthy Addiction, last of 13 in the 2005 Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) in New York, has enjoyed an outstanding year with three wins, a second and a third in five starts, all in Southern California. She registered her first grade I win on a wet fast track at Santa Anita in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita in March.

"She's a top class mare here in Southern California, but she just doesn't travel very well," Sadler admitted. "Her only bad races were when we sent her to Northern California or sent her out of state. But every time she's run here, she's very consistent and a really nice mare."

Sadler gave no indication he was interested in another ran at the BC Distaff, instead pointing to a turf race – the 1 1/16-mile Palomar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on Sept. 2 as her next opportunity.

"She's one-for-one on the grass," he said. "We'll probably give her another try on the grass, and then next year she'll go to be bred to Tiznow."

Sunday's victory, Healthy Addiction's ninth in 21 lifetime starts, increased her earnings to $882,837. Sequel 98 bred Healthy Addiction, who is out of the Gone West mare Lady Laika, in Kentucky.

Sent off as the third choice, the winner paid $9, $3.40 and $2.40. Happy Ticket, worse than second just once in 18 starts, returned $2.80 and $2.20. Star Parade was $2.80 to show.

(Chart, Equibase)