The San Clemente Handicap (G2T) is the logical prep race for the Del Mar Oaks Presented by The Jockey Club (G1T) practically every year.
Either three weeks or a month apart, the grass races for 3-year-old fillies at Del Mar present a natural progression—grade 2 to grade 1, a mile to 1 1/8 miles—but it's telling that only one horse this century has won both.
Famous Digger (1997) and Sicy d'Alsace (FR) (1998) won both of the turf races in back-to-back years, but since then only Evening Jewel (2010) has completed the task. Not every San Clemente winner comes back for the Oaks, but they do more often than not, so the conclusion appears simple.
"It just doesn't happen," said trainer Richard Baltas, who will look to complete the turf exacta with Slam Dunk Racing's San Clemente winner Madam Dancealot Aug. 19. The Baltas-trained Mokat won the San Clemente in 2016 and finished fourth in the Oaks behind winner Harmonize. "The race comes up tougher, and with more horses, because it's a grade 1. We're in against tougher for sure."
The daughter of Sir Prancealot could not have been much more impressive visually in the San Clemente, when she closed from last in a field of eight to take the July 23 San Clemente by 1 3/4 lengths, but along with increased quality for the Oaks comes increased quantity. Fourteen are entered Saturday for the Oaks, the largest field to ever contest the race (before Del Mar widened its turf course in 2014, the track could not accommodate more than 10 horses on turf).
Last turning for home in the San Clemente, Madam Dancealot displayed a unique burst to swallow up the field and kick clear late, but a clear path is never assured in such a large group.
"The pace scenario is always going to play a part, but when you get 13, 14 horses on a turf course that's not that big, you're going to have to deal with traffic," Baltas said. "Let's just hope to keep her in the clear."
Dream Dancing started her 3-year-old campaign as well as she could, with two straight wins, including her first graded victory in Gulfstream Park's Herecomesthebride Stakes (G3T) for trainer Mark Casse. Since then she placed in a pair of grade 3 turf races—the Edgewood Stakes Presented by Forcht Bank at Churchill Downs and the Wonder Again Stakes at Belmont Park June 8—but hasn't found the winner's circle.
"We have two really good fillies for Mr. Oxley—Dream Dancing and La Coronel—and we wanted to separate them," Casse said of the decision to send the Tapit filly west, while La Coronel will run at Saratoga Race Course in the Lake Placid Stakes (G2T). "La Coronel has just gotten back from her start at Ascot (where she finished fifth in the group 1 Coronation Stakes) and I didn't want to put her right back on the plane."
Casse, who once had a string at Del Mar during California's synthetics era, won a quartet of stakes at the seaside racetrack in 2014. But while others have been attracted to Del Mar because the 2017 Breeders' Cup is there for the first time, Casse does not have those plans for Dream Dancing.
"What brought us to Del Mar was the synthetic track and our success (with synthetic at) Woodbine," Casse said. "With the dirt we just have so many more choices. If she's a Breeders' Cup horse, it won't be this year. It'll be down the road. She's a 3-year-old and still has some growing up to do."
Con Te Partiro is a two-time stakes winner, and although they were 10 months apart, both victories were impressive. She broke through for trainer Wesley Ward with a 5 3/4-length score in the 2016 Bolton Landing Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, went winless in her next three starts (including two at Santa Anita Park), then came back June 21 to win the Sandringham Handicap at 20-1 odds during the Royal Ascot meeting. Ward has won seven stakes at Del Mar, his last with Shrinking Violet in the 2015 Daisycutter Handicap.
Another pair, Beau Recall and Pacific Wind, may find better success now that they are outside the shadow of Sircat Sally. Sircat Sally came into the San Clemente undefeated, but fractured one of her legs either during or after the race (where she finished fourth), and was retired.
Beau Recall ran second to Sircat Sally three times—in the China Doll, Senorita (G3T), and Honeymoon (G2T) at Santa Anita Park—before she shipped east to try the Belmont Oaks Invitational Stakes (G1T) last time out July 8, where she finished sixth. Pacific Wind, third in both the Senorita and Honeymoon, got nosed out by fellow Del Mar Oaks entrant Meadowsweet in an optional-claiming allowance July 21 at Del Mar.
Del Mar, Saturday, August 19, 2017, Race 10
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Kenda (KY) Tyler Baze 122 Philip D'Amato 20/1 2 2Madam Dancealot (IRE) Jamie Theriot 122 Richard Baltas 9/2 3 3Blame It On Alphie (KY) Victor Espinoza 122 Richard E. Mandella 20/1 98 4Pistol Packin Rose (KY) SCRATCHED 0 UNKNOWN - 4 5Con Te Partiro (KY) Flavien Prat 122 Wesley A. Ward 7/2 5 6Meadowsweet (KY) Kent J. Desormeaux 122 Clifford W. Sise, Jr. 12/1 6 7Vexatious (KY) Rafael Bejarano 122 Neil D. Drysdale 8/1 7 8Kathy's Song (KY) Gary L. Stevens 122 Richard Baltas 15/1 8 9Storm the Hill (KY) Santiago Gonzalez 122 Peter Miller 20/1 9 10Dream Dancing (KY) Julien R. Leparoux 122 Mark E. Casse 6/1 10 11Pacific Wind (KY) Corey S. Nakatani 122 Peter Eurton 12/1 11 12Beau Recall (IRE) Joseph Talamo 122 Simon Callaghan 6/1 12 13Tapped (KY) Mike E. Smith 122 Jerry Hollendorfer 8/1 13 14Bernina Star (KY) Brice Blanc 122 James M. Cassidy 30/1
Del Mar, Saturday, August 19, 2017, Race 10