28-1 Free Rose goes wire to wire in La Jolla

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

August 7th, 2016

Trainer Richard Baltas already had a proper Del Mar Oaks (G1) contender in Mokat, the convincing winner of the local prep in the San Clemente (G2). Now he’s added the local stepping stone to the Del Mar Derby (G2) too, after Free Rose sprang a front-running 28-1 upset in Saturday’s $151,725 La Jolla (G3).

A Nathan John McCauley homebred, Free Rose spent his career in the Mid-Atlantic and Kentucky – often in claiming or starter allowance company – until Abbondanza Racing bought into him and transferred him to Baltas. As Baltas told Britney Eurton in the post-La Jolla interview, he hoped to get Free Rose into the opening day Oceanside, but his new recruit didn’t have the credentials. So he instead made his Del Mar debut in a July 23 allowance versus his elders, finishing third.

That didn’t exactly leap off the page as an endorsement going into the La Jolla, and Free Rose was overlooked as the second-longest shot on the board. Yet two starts ago, in his last outing for Tevis McCauley, he was third in the same Churchill Downs allowance in which Monster Bea was second. Monster Bea went on to crush the Oceanside and earned 2-1 favoritism in the La Jolla. If you took their Churchill form literally, maybe Free Rose didn’t deserve to go off at 14 times the price. Hindsight’s always 20/20, of course, and it’s easier to find cause after the fact.

Drawn on the rail with new rider Joe Talamo, Free Rose flashed the good early speed he’d shown at Churchill and in his prior starter allowance romp at Keeneland. The Munnings gelding outsprinted Mr. Roary for the lead through a swift opening quarter in :22.29, and a Del Mar course that was playing friendly to front runners was on his side. Free Rose kept winging through splits of :46.59 and 1:10.97, shrugged off Mr. Roary in the stretch, and an upset was in the offing.

The stalking Moonlight Drive was in pursuit, Monster Bea was trying vainly to threaten on the far outside, and Lucky Bryan delivered a useful rally on the inside. But none could peg back Free Rose, who toted the lightest impost of all at 116 pounds. Reaching the mile in 1:34.64 and finishing 1 1/16 firm-turf miles in 1:40.73, he sparked a $59.80 win mutuel.

Lucky Bryan grabbed runner-up honors, officially a half-length shy of the winner. Moonlight Drive was another half-length astern in third, and Monster Bea was the same margin back in fourth. Monster Bea didn’t duplicate his Oceanside heroics, but between a wide trip, the speed-favoring course, and his 122-pound co-highweight status, he acquitted himself respectably. Next came Liam the Charmer, Dressed in Hermes, Mr. Roary, Ebadan, French import Burger and Fries, and Imperious One.

Free Rose’s overall mark stands at 10-3-1-2, $164,760, but he has yet to finish worse than third since switching to turf. His dirt record was a forgettable 1-for-6, his lone win coming in a $40,000 maiden claimer for Cathal Lynch at Parx last November.

The Kentucky-bred has Del Mar turf success in his blood. His fourth dam is Savannah Dancer, heroine of the 1985 Del Mar Oaks, and among her high-profile descendants is Aragorn, winner of the 2006 Eddie Read (G1) in a course-record time of 1:44.79 that still stands.

Free Rose is out of the winning El Prado mare Birdie Birdie, who sports the influential inbreeding to Sadler’s Wells and his three-quarter brother Nureyev. This is also the family of European champion juvenile One Cool Cat.

Quotes from Del Mar

Winning rider Joe Talamo on Free Rose: “First time I ever got on the horse. Scotty (agent Scotty McClellan) said he was a last-minute pickup. That’s why I can’t let him retire. Richie (trainer Richard Baltas) just said ‘Go to the front and try to win.’ We were going fast, but his ears were up and he was relaxed. The key to the race was at the three-eighths pole. A horse came up alongside, but then he let us go. My horse took a couple of breaths and then he went. Felt good.”

Winning trainer Richard Baltas: “I got the horse late at Santa Anita, so I’ve had him for almost two months. He looked like a nice horse on the turf (in races at Churchill Downs and Keeneland). I didn’t think he could be this kind to begin with, but his last race (July 23 at Del Mar) he ran a very good race when third against some tough older horses. Today he controlled the pace and he really gutted it out when he was challenged.”

Jockey Victor Espinoza on runner-up Lucky Bryan: “Good trip for me and he ran well. I think he likes it better outside, but they had me on the inside today. Still, he was game and he ran well.”

Jockey Flavien Prat on third-placer Moonlight Drive: “My trip was fine and he ran a good race. He was a little aggressive with me on the backside and I wish I could have gotten him to settle a bit better. But he ran good.”

Hall of Famer Gary Stevens on Monster Bea, fourth as the favorite: “He ran his race. A good effort. It seems the turf (course) has changed some. Seems like it is favoring speed a bit more. But my horse ran a good one; no doubt.”

Photo courtesy of Benoit