Just behind a slow pace, Ramona Bass' Avenge struck the lead coming off the turn and bested Finest City in a close finish in the $200,000 John C. Mabee Stakes (gr. IIT) for fillies and mares Sept. 4 at Del Mar.
A 4-year-old daughter of Claiborne Farm sire War Front ridden by Flavien Prat, Avenge covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.82 on firm turf to post her first graded stakes win at odds of 7-1. Elektrum, last year's Mabee winner, was third. Previously unbeaten Sobradora Inc was unplaced.
Tracking pacesetter Gloryzapper from second, with pedestrian fractions of :23.26, :48.28 and 1:13.19 through six furlongs, Avenge drew even on the turn while Finest City made her move for Kent Desormeaux. The winner opened a clear lead from that rival into the stretch and was fully extended to prevail.
Prat said trainer Richard Mandella's pre-race instructions were to just stay calm.
"This filly has a little breathing problem and she needs to relax," Prat said. "Today she did. The race came up just the way I'd hoped. We were in a good spot and she was going easy. Then she put in her good run. It worked out perfectly."
Avenge, who was a last-out winner of a one-mile allowance race at Del Mar, paid $17.60, $10.60, and $7.60, Finest City brought $12.80 and $8.60, and Elektrum paid $4.60.
"We tried her in the mile earlier in the meet and were very happy with that result," Mandella said. "We were kind of worrying about the mile and an eighth, but I thought about it, and, 'You know what, we'll never know if we don't try.' That's why we're here. She was doing really well and whenever you've got a good horse that's improving, you never know.
"I told John Mabee's grandson it was an honor to win this race named for his grandfather. I trained for him and we had a lot of good days together."
Bred in Kentucky by the Lerici Syndicate, Avenge is a half sister to graded stakes-placed winner Lira (Giant's Causeway) from the winning Woodman mare Lerici. Winner of half of her 10 career starts for trainer Richard Mandella, including the 2015 Ultrafleet Stakes at Santa Anita Park, the filly was a $650,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale purchase by Steve Young. Gainesway consigned as agent.
Completing the order of finish was Keri Belle in fourth, followed by Sobradora Inc, Havanna Belle, Queen of The Sand, Gloryzapper, Personal Diary, Prize Exhibit, Nancy From Nairobi, and Fresh Feline.