Avenge in Mabee, Free Rose in Del Mar Derby carve out similar trips to victory
Trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella for Ramona Bass, Avenge was exiting an allowance score over graded veteran Fanticola going a mile. The four-year-old daughter of War Front had yet to try this nine-furlong trip, and her only prior stakes win had come in the Ultrafleet sprinting down the hill. But she had stamina on her dam’s side, and a fine ride from Flavien Prat to get her home.
Gloryzapper hustled to the front from her rail post to take control through a half in :23.26, and Avenge set up shop in a watching second through leisurely splits of :48.28 and 1:13.19. Down the backstretch, Sobradora Inc was reserved just about midpack on the inside, flanked by Finest City. Although Finest City would go on to improve her position and finish a near-miss second, Sobradora Inc lost position on the far turn and found herself too far back swinging for home.
Meanwhile, Avenge put away the tiring Gloryzapper at the head of the lane in what turned out to be the decisive burst. Finest City got into gear, and defending Mabee champion Elektrum swept from further back, but they were too late to catch the winner’s well-timed move.
Avenge just lasted by a head from Finest City, with Elektrum another half-length astern in third. After clocking 1:48.82, she paid $17.60 to win at odds of 7-1. Keri Belle rallied from the tail of the field for fourth, one spot ahead of the belatedly closing Sobradora Inc. Nancy from Nairobi, the 7-2 second choice, never factored (with trouble at the quarter-pole) in 11th of 12.
Quotes from Del Mar
Jockey Flavien Prat on the winning Avenge: “Richard (trainer Mandella) said: ‘Just stay calm.’ This filly has a little breathing problem and she needs to relax. Today she did. The race came up just the way I’d hoped. We were in a good spot and she was going easy. Then she put in her good run. It worked out perfectly.”
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella on Avenge: “We tried her in the mile earlier in the meet and were very happy with that result. We were kind of worrying about the mile and an eighth, but I thought about it, and ‘You know what, we’ll never know if we don’t try.’ That’s why we’re here. She was doing really well and whenever you’ve got a good horse that’s improving, you never know.
“I told John Mabee’s grandson it was an honor to win this race named for his grandfather. I trained for him and we had a lot of good days together.”
Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux on runner-up Finest City: “She did everything but win.”
Jockey Victor Espinoza on Elektrum, third as the defending champion: “It was a slow pace; I could feel it. I moved her up a little earlier, but then they fanned out in front of me. I had no choice but to go wide. She tried. She ran hard.”
Two races later in the $253,105 Del Mar Derby (G2), the 11-1 Free Rose employed virtually the same kind of trip – chasing in second early, pouncing on the spent leader, and holding on from the furiously closing Ralis, Dressed in Hermes, and Monster Bea.
There was one glaring difference between the two graded turf stakes: the Del Mar Derby pace was considerably hotter, producing a final time of 1:47.70 – more than a full second faster than the Mabee.
The projected pace scenario was probably the reason why Free Rose was neglected in the betting. Although he’d wired the La Jolla (G3) as a 28-1 longshot last time out, the Richard Baltas trainee was assisted by a speed-conducive course and his rail post. On Sunday, he’d break from post 11 with company up front. That combination appeared problematic for a sophomore who shaped as a need-the-lead type stepping up to nine furlongs.
Appearances were deceiving, however, as Free Rose demonstrated he’s quite capable of stalking – with new rider Norberto Arroyo Jr. aboard. When the 43-1 Mr. Roary was intent on blazing forward through a quarter in :22.37, Free Rose settled into the tracking spot. Mr. Roary folded after hanging up :45.92 and 1:10.65, and Free Rose delivered the coup de grace. Spurting ahead on the far turn, the Munnings gelding stole a march on his rivals and never relinquished it.
Ralis, Dressed in Hermes, and Monster Bea all rallied from the latter part of the field, and the trio missed by a half-length in a blanket finish. The placegetters finished noses apart. According to Trakus, Ralis covered 22 feet more in total than the winner, the most in the top four. Monster Bea, who traveled widest into the stretch, registered the fastest final furlong in :11.73. Fifth-placer Lucky Bryan was last through the opening half-mile and endured a voyage of 27 extra feet, so his effort is better than the bare result implies.
Quotes from Del Mar
Winning trainer Richard Baltas on Free Rose: “His last race was very game. A lot of people discounted it because speed was good that day, but he ran some pretty fast fractions and he didn’t give up when they came at him. He ran back quicker last time than he did this time. We were going to run in the (opening day) Oceanside Stakes but he didn’t get in because he had run for a tag a little while before. I told Roberto that (Mr. Roary) was going to go for the lead, so he just sat second and then made a helluva move around the turn. He just kind of said ‘I’ll see you guys later.’ I was hoping he wasn’t going to get caught, and he didn’t.”
Winning rider Norberto Arroyo Jr.: “Richie (Baltas, trainer) said to get him out of there and see what’s happening. If you can make the lead, make the lead. If someone wants to go, then lay second. It worked just that way. He’s a free running horse and you can’t fight him. I heard them coming up behind me and I cut him loose. I thought maybe I went for it too early, but if I’d waited another second or two, they would have had the jump on me. It worked out just right.”
Jockey Mario Gutierrez on runner-up Ralis: “I had to go wide all the way with him. Didn’t have any choice. He ran great, though. He went real well.”
Desormeaux on third-placer Dressed in Hermes: “He gave me his life from the quarter-pole home. I couldn’t ask for a horse to try harder.”
Photos courtesy of Benoit