Craftily ridden by Mike Smith for owner/breeders Mr. And Mrs. Jerry Moss, the 10-1 shot Madeo held off odds-on favorite Gio Ponti gamely in the final strides to win by a half-length. Tangled Tango lasted for third over the late closing Nownownow. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile turf test for 3-year-olds was 1:46.68.
"He's a horse with a lot of talent but sort of immature," Shirreffs told TVG after capturing his first Del Mar Derby victory. "But everything just sort of lined up for him today."
Madeo had shown great promise this spring with a couple of impressive wins. But after disappointing in the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track July 12 when he finished last in a four-horse field, Shirreffs switched the Mizzen Mast colt to the turf at Del Mar. In the 1 1/16-mile La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 9, Madeo was forced to steady early and was dead last in the 10-horse field before rallying in spite of a slow pace to finish fourth, 3 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Sky Cape.
In the Del Mar Derby, Smith got away cleanly and set up along the rail in a good stalking spot fourth. Tangled Tango, who ran second in the La Jolla, dictated the pace through early fractions of :23.93, :47.26 and 1:11.37. Gio Ponti, the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) winner invading from New York for trainer Christophe Clement, dropped into fifth on the outside for jockey Garrett Gomez after breaking with the first flight of horses from his far outside post in the field of 10.
Madeo continued to enjoy a rail trip round the far turn, then angled out slightly in upper stretch to soon challenge Tangled Tango and Tyler Baze, who had been getting strong pressure from Tiz West before that one weakened. Tangled Tango proved stubborn in the lane but eventually succumbed in the final sixteenth of a mile to Madeo, who finished willingly while holding on between horses to the wire.
"He's a little bit of a funny horse to ride," said Smith, who has ridden Madeo in all seven of his races. "I wanted to keep him down inside and covered up. He does better there. But then I had to get him out and going, but not get him going too soon. We found out if we let him out too soon, he gets to playing around and doing all sorts of things. But it broke right today and he was good enough."
Gio Ponti, passing Tangled Tango in deep stretch after making a five-wide bid coming off the turn, drew closer in the final strides but could not reach the winner. Gio Ponti, the 9-10 choice, wound up three-quarters of a length in front of Tangled Tango.
Gomez said he was a little disappointed in the favorite.
"A bunch of little things went wrong during the race and he should have handled them," Gomez said." But he didn't. I used him some to get position, then we lost that position. Then don't ask me how, but I wound up six wide coming for home. He just couldn't get it done. He's a better colt than this. You didn't see his best race today."
Madeo earned $210,000 for his third win, bumping his lifetime earnings to $317,915. The bay colt is out of the Moss' mare Passion Flower, by Deputy Minister.
Sent off as the fifth choice, the winner paid $23.60, $7.20 and $6.20. Gio Ponti, who also won the Hill Prince (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park this spring, returned $3.20 and $2.60 while completing a $2 exacta worth $63.80. Tangled Tango, the only horse to compete in all three legs of Del Mar's stakes series for the 3-year-old division, was $6.60 to show for trainer Julio Canani, who had won the Del Mar Derby four times previously.
It was a neck to Nownownow, followed by Kilderry, Tiz West, Sky Cape, Spinning Sound, Blue Chagall and Captain Roy.
In the afternoon's supporting feature, the $108,800 Torrey Pines Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Dawn Before Dawn, ridden by Gomez, led from gate-to-wire to win by a length in 1:37.10 for one mile on the main track.
Miss Singhsix was second, Distant Victory third and even-money favorite Golden Doc A fourth in a field of seven fillies.
Dawn Before Dawn, owned by Ike and Dawn Thrash and trained by John Sadler, paid $17.80 while earning $65,280 with her fourth victory in nine starts. The filly is a Kentucky-bred daughter of High Yield.
The attendance was 19,716.
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