Al and Sandee Kirkwood's homebred Blackjackcat has met every class challenge since the summer began and continued to improve Aug. 20 for his first graded win in the $200,000 Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2T).
Video: Del Mar Mile H. (G2T)
The 4-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding never let early leader Midnight Storm get too far away through much of the eight-furlong grass test, took the lead in the stretch, and held off a late rally from Vyjack to win by a head in 1:34.06 at odds of 8-1.
While Blackjackcat's regular rider Gary Stevens rode another of his regular mounts, Om, trainer Mark Glatt went to jockey Kent Desormeaux for the first time and the switch worked out in Blackjackcat's seventh attempt at the graded level.
"We gave him a nice break after his 3-year-old campaign, got a couple races in him at Santa Anita, and finally settled on a distance," Glatt said of his first two starts of the year, third-place finishes in an off-the-turf allowance at Santa Anita Park and in the Daytona Stakes (G3T).
After those two starts, he won a conditional optional-claiming allowance at Santa Anita July 2, then took the restricted Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar July 23. Both races were at a mile on the turf.
Midnight Storm, the 2-1 favorite, set fractions of :23.16, :46.88, and 1:10.32 through six furlongs, but was headed by Blackjackcat with a furlong to run and tired to finish fourth.
"I rode to my instructions," Desormeaux said. "I was told to get into Midnight Storm's jock and not get out. He ran great."
Om finished third, followed by Midnight Storm, Le Ken, and Bal a Bali to complete the order of finish. Bal a Bali, last-out winner of the Shoemaker Mile (G1T), raced in fifth early, advanced wide in the backstretch under jockey Mike Smith, and tired harshly in the stretch.
Bred in Kentucky, out of the Go for Gin mare Bootleg Annie, Blackjackcat now has five wins from 13 starts and $353,270 in earnings. The victpry gave Glatt his second graded win of the Del Mar meeting, following his score with Sharp Samurai in the La Jolla Handicap (G3T). Prior to that, his last graded win came in the 2010 Will Rogers Stakes (G3T) with Leroy's Dynameaux.