California Chrome still may be the aberration of all aberrations, but he's no longer the only winner produced by Love the Chase, the famed mare who broke her maiden for an $8,000 tag.
In a mile maiden special weight event for California-bred fillies and mares on the Del Mar turf Aug. 10, R Sunday Surprise, one of three full siblings to the two-time Horse of the Year, just edged Halo Ahead by a head at the wire.
After a break from the rail in the field of 10, the 3-year-old Lucky Pulpit filly settled well on the inside to track the early pace in fourth under jockey Israel Ocampo. Ocampo bided his time on the rail as others passed on the outside in the final turn, but found his inside path at the top of the stretch and his filly burst through to catch Halo Ahead in the final strides.
"It definitely is (a relief)," said trainer Kristin Mulhall, who took over training of R Sunday Surprise from Doug O'Neill and moved her to the turf. "She's been a project, but it's nice. The goal was to get her maiden broken, so we'll see where she goes from here."
For Mulhall the victory was a satisfying payoff for a plan well executed. After five starts for O'Neill during her juvenile season, in which she never finished closer than her third-place debut (4 1/2 lengths behind the winner), Mulhall first gave R Sunday Surprise—who is owned by a partnership that includes Steve Coburn, one of California Chrome's original owners—some time off.
"She's a little bit of a mental case," Mulhall said. "She can be very, very nervous. She would be rank, run off, and not finish, and was going backward in her races when we got her. It was hard to keep her in the barn, so we turned her out, got her to relax, and started over."
Then came the in-race schooling sessions. Because R Sunday Surprise was never much of a work horse on dirt, and in hopes to settle her without having to deal with kickback on the main track, Mulhall first put her on grass in a sprint down the Santa Anita Park hillside turf course, but the objective was to get her to relax. She closed from 11th to finish third in that try, so her next attempt at a flat mile at Del Mar was another instructional session, and she closed from 12th to finish fifth.
"We took her back in those first two races just to teach her. She could lay closer (to the pace) or even be a speed horse, but the key is to get her to relax," Mulhall said. "She's going to make that one run, but if she's rank and won't relax, she's not going to finish."
With her sister Hope's Love no longer racing, and her younger brother Faversham yet to make his debut and on the sideline with minor shin issues, R Sunday Surprise currently is the only sibling to California Chrome in training, and Mulhall feels she has every right to keep improving.
"She's learned a lot," the trainer said. "She's come a really long way and she's going to keep getting better if she keeps her head on straight."