Del Mar Race Report: Rolling Along

Published in the Sept. 14 issue of The Blood-Horse
When you're the New York Yankees, even your second string is considered good enough to start and excel for lesser teams around the league. Being a Dodgers fan he might not like the analogy, but trainer Bobby Frankel's barn is so deep (think Beat Hollow, Chiselling, Lido Palace, You), his second- and third-stringers are plenty good enough to win graded stakes at major venues coast-to-coast.

Inesperado, a French-bred son of the Irish stallion Zayyani, was unheard of in this country while competing in listed stakes on smaller circuits in France. Frankel, though, heard of him through his European contacts, and plucked him off the French sandlots for Charles Kenis' 3 Plus U Stable, same as he had another French minor-leaguer, Super Quercus, whom he turned into a major player in North America.

Every time Frankel has called on Inesperado to come off the bench and grab a bat, the 3-year-old colt has responded with a home run, first in the Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park in June, then in the La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Del Mar three weeks ago. After a third smasher, this time in the Sept. 7 $300,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT), it is evident no one has yet figured out how to pitch to him.

Faced with eight opponents, including the winners of both divisions of the Oceanside Stakes and eastern invader and graded winner Mr. Mellon, Inesperado was sent off a lukewarm 9-5 favorite in the nine-furlong derby. Rain, as unheard of at Del Mar as a significant race not featuring a Frankel runner, had fallen the previous day, leaving the turf "firm," but with some give in it. Rock Opera, winner of the faster division of the split Oceanside, sped to the lead under Laffit Pincay Jr., chased by the ambitiously placed Golden Arrow and multiple stakes victor Mountain Rage.

Corey Nakatani, pinch-hitting on Inesperado while previous pilots Eddie Delahoussaye (injury) and Kent Desormeaux (in New York) were away, conserved energy in mid-pack for the initial five furlongs. The lineup remained unchanged until the half-mile pole, when Nakatani put the winner into motion on the outside. Johar, who had missed in his last three stakes tries by less than a length, drafted right behind.

Rock Opera held gamely until they straightened off the turn and Inesperado, changing leads, exploded past, chased by Johar. But Nakatani had a handful of horse, and was a length clear of Johar on the wire, with Rock Opera third. The clock stopped in 1:47.49, making it the second-fastest Del Mar Derby in history, just behind Walklikeaduck's 1:46.66 two years ago.

"I was just sitting there thinking about how much I was going to win by," said Nakatani. "Bobby has the right horses and puts them in the right places. This was a very impressive performance."

Inesperado paid $5.60. His $180,000 payday pushed his lifetime earnings to better than $420,000, the lion's share coming in his three stateside efforts for 3 Plus U. Although Kenis lost his wife, Audrey, in June, he continues to win races with Frankel. Besides Super Quercus, the team has raced such standouts as Mazel Trick, The Seven Seas, Northern Quest, Uncharted Haven, and Sixieme Sens.

Frankel, who summered at Saratoga, has nevertheless captured four stakes at Del Mar this season, and chalked up his second victory in the Del Mar Derby, 11 years after Eternity Star made the winner's circle. Speaking from Los Angeles the next day, he was understated in assessing the victory. "He seems like a nice horse; he keeps winning. I've gotten a lot of good horses off those small tracks in Europe." Frankel added the Hollywood Derby (gr. I) in December is the ultimate target for Inesperado this year, with a possible stop at Oak Tree along the way. Bred by Barbara Moser and Rachele Lamy, Inesperado has won seven of 12 starts. The role player is on a roll.

Voodoo Can Do

The geographic ghetto that is California racing today has had trouble attracting eastern stars to even its premier races. Conditioner Christophe Clement, however, sent Voodoo Dancer west last summer, where she ran a courageous fourth behind Golden Apples and Affluent in the Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT). The daughter of Kingmambo has subsequently visited Belmont, Keeneland, Aqueduct, Hollywood Park, Churchill Downs, and Saratoga before finding her way back to Del Mar as a 4-year-old to compete in the Sept. 8, $150,000 Palomar Handicap (gr. IIT). The trip was worthwhile.

The winner of this year's Locust Grove Handicap and Beaugay Handicap (both gr. IIIT) settled comfortably near the back of the pack under Desormeaux in the seven-horse field while Skywriting and Old Money carved out modest fractions of :24.66, :48.89, and 1:12.56. Janet, the second choice in the wagering behind Voodoo Dancer, was along the rail in third for much of the going, but failed to punch in at crunch time. Desormeaux started Voodoo Dancer going on the last turn, and she quickly stuck pins into the rest of the field, going between two horses, then outside another pair to cruise to the lead. She was much too good, drawing off by two lengths in 1:41.56 for the 1 1/16 miles. I'm the Business ran on impressively from behind to snatch second by a nose from Skywriting.

Green Hills Farm's Voodoo Dancer paid $4.40, and is now five-for-five at the Palomar distance and three-for-five this year. She has bankrolled $855,588, winning nine times in 15 starts. Bred in Kentucky by Lazy E Ranch, Voodoo Dancer will no doubt be taking her show on the road again, and seems destined to step her way into millionaire status presently.

The Stubborn Mule

Del Mar found a unique way to keep its clientele on track for the entirety of its Sept. 8 program, as the seaside oval hosted The Mule Duel following its Thoroughbred card. This was the much-anticipated match race between the queen of the mules, Black Ruby, and her male counterpart, Taz, who had defeated the queen in their last encounter in Northern California two weeks prior. The non-betting exhibition was witnessed by an estimated 8,000 patrons, adorned with giveaway buttons touting their favorite ass.

Del Mar put up a $10,000 purse, to be split 60-40. Under regular rider Jim Burns and at equal weights (Black Ruby gave Taz eight pounds in the recent loss), Black Ruby broke slightly quicker from the inside gate and opened a half-length lead 50 yards into the 400-yard contest. From there the 10-year-old widened her lead, drawing off by two lengths at the end to the delight of most in the crowd. "She's just a beautiful little girl and a great athlete," said co-owner Mary McPherson.

"She loves to be hooked and she doesn't want to let anyone by her," Burns added. "She has so much heart."

Black Ruby and Taz, who was ridden by "Cowboy" Jack Kaenel, will face each other again Sept. 14 at Fairplex in a showdown open to wagering. b

Surf and Turf
With two days left on the Del Mar slate, Pat Valenzuela is home and dry in the jockey standings, winning his second straight Southern California title. Valenzuela returned from suspension last winter, and has been on fire, first at Hollywood Park, then Del Mar...Bob Baffert will double his nearest competitor, Bill Spawr, in the trainers' race. Baffert now has a six-year streak going as Del Mar's leading conditioner. By Lenny Shulman

(Chart, Equibase)