Del Mar Race Report: All in the Family

Published in the Sept. 7 issue of The Blood-Horse
Bo Hirsch struggled to find the right words, but he can be forgiven. For Hirsch, the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante (gr. I) on Aug. 31 wasn't about prestige or paydays.

"You've got to be in this business for the fun of it," Hirsch said. "I couldn't even begin to imagine when my father passed away that if I was going to stay in this business, I wasn't going to continue just like he had. I got real lucky here."

Miss Houdini's narrow decision over Santa Catarina continued a family tradition for Hirsch, a history over 50 years in the making. It was during the late 1940s that his father, the late Clement L. Hirsch, first joined up with trainer Warren Stute. Their association was enduring, carried to great heights through the decades by Figonero, Snow Sporting, June Darling, and Magical Mile.

Though most of Hirsch's stock was subsequently dispersed following his death two years ago, Bo Hirsch felt it best to keep the flame burning. Consequently, he kept his hands on a few runners, and included among the handful was a daughter of another family standout, Magical Maiden. She was a good one herself back in the early '90s, accomplished on both dirt and grass, and the last big horse Hirsch owned.

Despite Miss Houdini's homespun breeding, though, Stute's expectations weren't exactly lofty when she first walked into his shedrow.

"First time I saw her, I said to Bo, 'God, I hope you didn't pay too much,' " he remembered. "She had a big long head, skinny neck, pot belly." His lack of inspiration was further fueled by the fact that Magical Maiden's earlier foals--a pair of A.P. Indy fillies and a Cozzene colt--had displayed little talent. "But she kept developing and developing," Stute went on. "She's really a beautiful-looking filly now."

Still, Miss Houdini gave her trainer no reason to think she was anything more than just decent--that is, until her impressive debut in July. The seven-furlong Debutante validated her promise.

Miss Houdini was slow into stride but nonetheless eager in the Debutante, forcing jockey Gary Stevens to steer the daughter of Belong to Me into the clear down the backstretch.

"I didn't want to be parked four-wide around there but I didn't want to fight her either," said Stevens, aboard the filly for the first time. "Once I got up a half-length off the lead, she settled for me pretty well. She was pulling pretty hard but she wasn't rank."

Jockey Mike Smith, conversely, had his hands full early with Santa Catarina down inside. The daughter of Unbridled had been flat-out stunning three weeks earlier, breaking her maiden by eight lengths. That day, however, Santa Catarina had been in front all the way. Forced to wait behind the pace in the Debutante, her inexperience showed.

"Oh, she ran dynamite," Smith said later on. "I was just having a little bit of trouble. She was lugging in so bad down the backside. She was running away from horses. I couldn't do what I wanted to do then."

With three tiring pacesetters to her left and her main rival still pinched behind them on the turn, Miss Houdini broke the race open passing the quarter pole, slipping away to an open lead. When Santa Catarina finally got out, Smith dove to the rail for an inside attack. It almost paid off. Miss Houdini beat Santa Catarina by just a neck, covering the distance in 1:23.43. The two finished nearly 10 lengths ahead of the next knot of runners.

Of course, the close margin was indicative of Miss Houdini's callowness, as well. Stevens mentioned the filly was quite tense in the gate, resulting in a tardy start, then lost focus again when she found herself alone in front. Nevertheless, her rapid development has only added to what has been a banner year for Stute. Just shy of his 81st birthday, he has won four stakes this summer at Del Mar alone, continuing an amazing run of success that has lasted over a half-century. Stute, in fact, was not yet 30 when he won the very first Del Mar Debutante ever run. The filly was Tonga. The year was 1951.

"You know what the purse was?" Stute asked a fan the morning after the Debutante. "Ten thousand dollars. That was big then."

The undisputed queen of Stute's juveniles through the years, however, was June Darling. Carrying Hirsch's black and gold colors, June Darling was almost untouchable in 1970, even beating the boys in both the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes.

Miss Houdini is now continuing the legacy. A man who generally keeps excitement in check, Stute figures the Oct. 6 Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. II) will let Miss Houdini prove whether she can handle a longer distance. A strong showing there could give the young filly a chance to trump her dam at the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. In 1992, Magical Maiden ran a good third at 31-1 behind Paseana in the Distaff (gr. I). A decade later, her daughter could make a run at the Long John Silver's Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). For Stevens, who rode Magical Maiden to her most important wins, one impression was more than enough.

"She's a big, scopy filly and acts like she'll run all day long like that. Just real steady," he said. "This won't be her last grade I."

Miss Houdini paid $24.80 in the Debutante, but that was nothing compared to the $43.60 surprise registered by Delta Form a day later in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) at 1 3/8 miles.

Give full credit to jockey Goncalino Almeida for a faultless ride. Breaking from the rail, Almeida simply kept Delta Form along the fence, tracking Kim Loves Bucky to the far turn. When Almeida finally muscled the gelding to his right lead in early stretch, Delta Form left favored Dance Dreamer and caught The Tin Man at the wire. Owned by movie mogul Gary Barber and Team Valor, the 6-year-old Australian-bred prevailed by a neck. His final time, 2:12.15, eclipsed the course mark set five weeks earlier by Arbiter. Delta Form is trained by Jenine Sahadi.

Redondo Recuperating
Two days after breaking down following his fifth-place finish in the Aug. 25 Pacific Classic (gr. I), Bosque Redondo underwent surgery to repair both fractured sesamoids and a broken cannon bone in his right front leg. The operation, performed by Dr. Wayne McIlwraith at the Equine Medical Center in Cypress, Calif., lasted about half the time normally required for a procedure of such magnitude.


(Chart, Equibase)