A pair of graded stakes highlighted this weekend's action at Del Mar and got under way on Saturday, July 31, with the eight-furlong San Clemente H. (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies going eight furlongs over the Jimmy Durante turf course. A mere field of five went to the gate with the Bobby Frankel-trained MISS VEGAS (Efisio) sent off as the overwhelming favorite. The bay came into the event sporting an impressive lifetime mark of 8-7-0-1 on the grass, including an impressive five-length victory in the Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park in her last start.In the end though, the day belonged to SWEET WIN (King of Kings), who rallied from well off the pace and got up in the final strides to cross the wire a head in front of Miss Vegas. The chestnut was making her first start for trainer Jeff Mullins after turning heads at Calder with a convincing six-length victory against allowance rivals last out in June. The Southern California air and the addition of Lasix seem to agree with the miss as she put in quite an impressive performance to pick up her first stakes win.VICTORY U.S.A. (Victory Gallop) put in a very respectable effort herself and closed with nice strides to miss second by a nose.On Sunday, Aug. 1, a field of seven 3-year-olds and up contested the 1 1/16-mile San Diego H. (gr. II). PLEASANTLY PERFECT (Pleasant Colony), winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) and this year's Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), was sent off as the heavy favorite. The 6-year-old horse stalked the pace early on and appeared to be running well within himself. When the field came off the final turn, Pleasantly Perfect inched his way to the lead and looked to be on his way to chalking up his fifth graded victory in a row, but it was not to be as 6.30-1 shot CHOCTAW NATION (Louis Quatorze) had already begun to unleash an explosive turn of foot from near the back of the pack. Choctaw Nation was undefeated in four career starts but had never faced this kind of competition. In his first career start, the 4-year-old gelding had even run for a $40,000 tag and was claimed out of that event by his current connections. Someone obviously forgot to inform the bay that he might be in over his head, though, for once he began to make his move he kept on moving and gained the lead in late stretch to cross the finish line three parts of a length in front, giving Mullins a sweep of the weekend graded stakes. Pleasantly Perfect was a clear second, finishing five lengths clear of early pace setter DURING (Cherokee Run) in third.
The week's other stakes action got under way on Wednesday, July 28, as a field of eight Cal-bred 2-year-olds went to the post for the 5 1/2-furlong Graduation Stakes. SENOR FANGO (Mud Route) was sent off as the 5-2 favorite and rewarded his backers by stalking the pace early before making a game bid through the stretch drive to cross the finish line a half-length in front. FALLFREE (Falstaff) challenged for the lead throughout and held on determinedly at the end to finish second, a neck in front of a hard-charging SWISS LAD (Phone Saga) in third.On Friday, a field of eight contested the Daisycutter Handicap for fillies and mares going five furlongs on the grass. BELLESKI (Polish Numbers) was sent off as the even-money favorite but fell victim to a troubled trip and, though she finished the race full of run, could do no better than fourth. ICANTFORFORTHAT (In Excess) took the lead out of the gate and never looked back to cross the wire three parts of a length in front, paying a very hefty $46.40 for the effort. MARKET GARDEN (Bold Badgett) finished well to pick up the place, a nose in front of LADY GENERAL (General Meeting) in third.Finally, on Saturday, a field of seven contested the eight-furlong Wickerr H. over the Del Mar Grass. BUDDY GIL (Eastern Echo) was sent off as the even-money favorite, but once more chalk players were disappointed as the 4-year-old gelding finished fifth. STATEMENT (Seattle Slew), from the always-dangerous barn of Kristin Mulhall, stalked the pace early before taking the lead in deep stretch and gamely held on to cross the finish line a neck in front. SEINNE (Hussonet) was second, three parts of a length in front of GOLDEN ARROW (Rahy) in third.Doug O'Neill currently holds the top spot in the trainer standings with nine winners for the meet. Jeff Mullins is in second with eight, followed by Mike Mitchell and Bill Spawr, who are tied for third with five winners each.As for the jockeys, Victor Espinoza has taken up the top spot, having booted home 16 winners thus far. Corey Nakatani is running a close second with 15, followed by Tyler Baze with 13 victories for the meet.On the main track this week, horses on or near the pace held the advantage in both sprint and route races. As for the turf, the advantage went to runners coming from off the pace.Horses to WatchWednesday (07/28)
2nd Race- SUGAR DATE (Out of Place) broke a bit slowly from the gate in this 2-year-old maiden claiming event, but finished with an explosive turn of foot to finish second -- two lengths behind the winner but eight lengths clear of the rest of the field. All in all, the bay put in a very promising effort in her first career start.6th Race - WE ALL LOVE ALEYNA (Nines Wild) was disqualified to seventh in this turf claiming event after trying to run over GENERAL FOX (Military) then bearing out into PLENTY OF HEAT (Lite the Fuse ). Regardless, the 3-year-old gelding finished full of run and crossed the finish line two lengths in front, a margin that would have been larger if not for the mishap. Plenty of Heat was a victim of bumping in the first turn then was bumped again by We All Love Aleyna in the stretch, but recovered well and finished with a nice turn of foot himself to cross the line in second and therefore pick up the win.7th Race - (See Graduation Stakes, above) Swiss Lad broke slowly and was some 11 lengths off the lead early. Once he hit the stretch and began to make his run, the bay was faced with a wall of horses and had to check. He quickly re-rallied and was eating up ground late to barely miss finishing second.Thursday (07/29)
4th Race - SAGITTA RA (Run Softly) was last by more than 11 lengths on the backstretch in this optional claiming turf affair but once the field hit the stretch, she closed with tremendous strides to miss by only a half-length.7th Race - ROYAL STAMP (With Approval) made her North American debut an impressive one by stalking the pace early before unleashing a devastating turn of foot in the stretch, while under little more than a hand ride, to cross the finish line three parts of a length in front.Friday (07/30)
1st Race - BETTYS TRIBUTE (Daggers Drawn) was running nicely when she was forced to check in the second turn of this turf claiming event, forcing her to drop well back in the pack. Once they hit the stretch, the chestnut then lacked room but once a hole opened, she finished full of run. Though she finished sixth, she was beaten by only 2 3/4 lengths and could be ready for a top effort in her next start at what should be a generous price.3rd Race - HIDDEN BEAUTY (Cahill Road) found a change of connections and a stretch out in distance to be exactly what she needed to get her picture taken. The 3-year-old filly had put in a couple of lackluster efforts against maiden claiming company in her first two starts, but came to life here as she won by a widening 9 1/2 lengths.7th - (See Daisycutte Handicap, above) Belleski had a pretty rough trip, including being forced to check in the stretch, but finished well and looms a threat next out with a better trip. Market Garden was forced to wait for a hole before swinging out in the stretch and making up ground late for the place.Saturday (07/31)
1st Race - SHE'S SALTY (Gentlemen) took the lead early in this maiden special event and never looked back, crossing the finish line five lengths in front in her second career start.3rd Race - DECLAN'S MOON (Malibu Moon ) made his career debut an impressive one by leading the field from gate to wire in this 2-year-old maiden special event. The dark bay guided the field through early fractions of :22 and :45 1/5 before pulling clear late to hit the wire five lengths on top.9th Race - DELIZIA (Distant View) had run evenly in three of her first four career starts, but she really came to life in this maiden special event as she dueled for the lead throughout before opening up in the stretch to finish eight lengths in front.Sunday (08/01)
2nd Race - RESPLENDENCY (Tale of the Cat) returned from a nine-month layoff in fine fashion and full of run as she vied for the lead throughout in this allowance event before pulling away in the stretch to cross the finish line five lengths in front, posting an impressive 104 BRIS Speed rating in the process.Monday (08/02)
2nd - MR. ARTAX (Artax) found the drop into claiming company to be exactly what he needed to break his maiden in his second career start. The 2-year-old colt took the lead early and improved his position, crossing the finish line seven lengths clear of the field. The chestnut was claimed so look for him to make his next start for trainer Craig A. Lewis.
Link to Brisnet