Delaware Park Report: Baby, Oh Baby

Since Rosenna captured the inaugural Delaware Handicap back in 1937, the now 1 1/4-mile test at Delaware Park has been won by some of the sport's finest distaffers. It's also been a race in which the post-time favorite often fails to win.

In the last decade, only two favorites have won the Del 'Cap, and that trend continued in its 64th renewal (now a gr. III) when an 18-1 longshot surprised five other rivals in gate-to-wire fashion under a crafty local jockey.

Anstu Stables' Irving's Baby, a 4-year-old daughter of Quiet American out of the Badger Land mare Irving's Girl, earned her first graded stakes victory at the expense of two accomplished millionaires: Fox Hill Farms' Jostle and Dolan Racing Stables' Lazy Slusan, the latter of whom had shipped from California for Delaware's $600,300 signature event.

Irving's Baby's 3 3/4-length tally topped a profitable weekend for both her trainer, Todd Pletcher, and rider, Ramon Dominguez. Pletcher saddled Tweedside to win the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) the day before the Del 'Cap, while Dominguez scored a stakes double by winning the Kent Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the Del 'Cap card.

While eight fillies and mares entered the Del 'Cap, the field was reduced to six when both John C. Oxley's Beautiful Pleasure and Ol Memorial Stable's Kris Pit scratched. Dominguez took advantage of Beautiful Pleasure's defection by gunning Irving's Baby right to the lead, where she set dawdling fractions: the half in :49.40, six furlongs in 1:14.04, a mile in 1:39.11.

The slow pace enabled Dominguez to kick clear of Lazy Slusan, who had dogged Irving's Baby throughout. As they approached the wire, Christiana Stables' Under the Rug, who had been steered off the rail by jockey Mark Johnston, rallied for second with Lazy Slusan weakening to finish third. Jostle, the 4-5 favorite, had no rally and finished fourth. The final time of 2:05.21 was the slowest since 1988. The winner returned $38.

"She definitely can run all day," said John Hassett, Pletcher's New York assistant. "She won three stakes in a row very impressively at Laurel this winter, but there was always the question when she met the big guns, was she going to be able to do it? I think she answered that question today."

Hassett said Irving's Baby was a one-run horse who was just coming into her own at age 4.

"Wherever she is at the quarter pole in a race is where she finishes," he said. "She has no late kick. She wins her races on the backstretch."

Jostle's fourth-place finish was puzzling for trainer John Servis, who was seeking to become the first trainer ever to capture both the Delaware Oaks (gr. III) and Del 'Cap in the same year, having scored with Fox Hill Farms' Zonk the day before.

"I really don't know what to say about her effort today," he said.

The victory was the seventh from 22 starts for Anita and Stuart Subotnick's home-bred Irving's Baby, and the $360,000 winner's share of the purse boosted her career earnings to $591,307. Hassett said a start in the Personal Ensign (gr. I) at Saratoga on August 24 could be on the filly's agenda.

THE BIG ZONK

Last summer, Servis told all who would listen he had a very talented juvenile filly in his barn by the name of Zonk. Owned by Delaware native Richard Porter's Fox Hill Farms, Zonk placed in two stakes and then last September shipped from her Philadelphia Park base to Turfway Park, where she finished third in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Unfortunately for Servis, Zonk emerged from the Turfway race with a fractured hind pastern, erasing Servis' plan of running her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

When Zonk, a daughter of Farma Way out of the Riverman mare In Concert, returned from a seven-month layup, however, she won an allowance race at Delaware on May 6, then followed up with a score in the Revidere Stakes at Monmouth Park on May 27. She was then unplaced in the Mother Goose (gr. I) at Belmont Park on June 30.

"I kind of threw her to the wolves," said Servis, a native of Charles Town, W. Va. "I didn't feel she was quite ready for it, but there was no place else to run her. I took a shot and thank God it didn't mess her up."

That poor showing in the Mother Goose led to a fat pari-mutuel price of 29-1 in the 50th renewal of the $261,000 Delaware Oaks, but Zonk ran as if she were odds-on. She even defeated the filly who won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Carl Pollard's champion Caressing.

Under Mike McCarthy, Zonk sat in perfect striking position behind the leaders in the 11-horse field, then was set down through an opening near the rail in deep stretch. She took the lead and drew off to win by a length, timed in 1:45.27 for the 1 1/16 miles.

Lee Lewis' Mystic Lady, winner of the Jersey Derby (gr. III), was second under Jerry Bailey, while 83-1 Lady Andromeda, owned by SJB Jr. Stable, was third. Caressing, the post-time favorite, never threatened and finished seventh.

Zonk increased her earnings to $266,200 with the $151,000 winner's share of the Delaware Oaks purse, and she has won half of her eight lifetime starts. She was purchased by Fox Hill for $85,000 from the consignment of Beth Bayer, agent, at the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale.

"She showed me today that she's the kind of horse I thought she was," said Servis.

For Porter, Zonk's Oaks win ranks in the "top five" stakes he's won since employing Servis several years ago. "It's great to win such an important and prestigious race at the track I grew up at," he said.


NAVESINK'S ARRIVAL

Jayeff B Stables' Navesink served notice in the Hill Prince (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park on June 16 that he was a sophomore with a very bright future on the turf. Having won his first three lifetime starts on the grass with ease, the son of Irish River jumped up and ran a huge race in the Hill Prince, yielding late while trapped down on the inside.

Thus, it came as no surprise to trainer Alan Goldberg that Navesink was ready for a big effort in the Kent Breeders' Cup Stakes on July 22. But instead of sending him to the lead, as he did in the Hill Prince, Dominguez eased him back off the early pace and then made a powerful sweep to the lead turning for home in the 1 1/8-mile test. He came home two lengths in front of the Michael Dickinson-trained Bowman Mill. Harrisand, trained by Bobby Frankel, was third. Navesink was timed in 1:49.98 over firm going.

"It was a great race, like we thought he would run," said Goldberg. "He's just stepping up and getting better and better. He's one of the few you get that likes to race, ships well, and has a lot of talent."

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