Catching My Eye: Opening Weekend at Del Mar and Spa Babies
Del Mar: Friday, July 23
Kid Corleone put his name on the map in the sprint division beating a field of 12 going 6 1/2 furlongs in Friday’s optional claimer against older company. Making his first start as a three-year-old, this California-bred trained by Doug O’Neill went to the lead and did not look back, blasting away the likes of Peter Eurton’s Exaulted and Bob Baffert’s Murray. Earning a big speed figure, he also has earned the right to take on stakes company.
Del Mar: Sunday, July 25
While Gracelund Gray freshened up after the Santa Anita meet, her trainer, Howard Zucker, sketched out a new game plan. Putting blinkers on and going two turns on the turf for the first time, this Goldencents filly bred by Calumet Farm got her first win since racing as a two-year-old in Canada at Lethbridge (where she was 2-for-2 winning by a combined total of 37 lengths).
She did it impressively, being the only horse to win on the lead at the second call in the first three days at Del Mar. Winning on the lead when the portable rail is down is historically hard to do where the surf meets the turf. She tried stakes company earlier in the year in the Las Virgenes (G3) and will likely be diving back into the deep end at Del Mar.
Hong Kong Harry and There Goes Harvard proved too tough for the Group 1 Argentine-bred Irideo, but in his fourth North American race, the deep closer validated the talent he flashed sprinting in his last effort, winning Sunday’s $100,000 Wickerr Stakes going one mile on turf.
Sent off at 31-1, the deep closer settled in back, saved ground and entered the stretch in seventh place before making a nice late move, splitting foes and edging out the favorite, Gregorian Chant. This six-year-old won’t be dismissed by the betting public again but if connections step up into graded stakes, surely there will still be value to be had going forward.
Saratoga: Thursday, July 22
The finale at Saratoga on Thursday gave us the debut of Frank Rockette’s sister, American Rockette. Her speed figure didn’t come back huge, but visually she put on a show.
After breaking into her neighbor and settling to the back, she saved ground and raced over eight lengths behind the leader through the first two calls. Tipping out widest into the stretch, this American Pharoah filly gathered her rhythm and blurred past a bunch who fought gamely to the wire. This included the favorite and an overlooked impressive daughter of Practical Joke.
American Rockette offered a late surge when Junior Alvarado asked and then glided through the wire extending her lead. Rained off the turf, Bill Mott had chartered a grass campaign for this two-year-old, and it makes sense with her running style and push-button turn of foot. Still, we’ll likely see her on the main track until her results suggest otherwise. Frank’s Rockette, also trained by Mott, won with a slightly higher speed figure on debut as a two-year-old, then went on to run second in the Spinaway, Frizette, and Adirondack, before going on to win three graded stakes as a three-year-old.
Saratoga: Saturday, July 23
Race 6 at Saratoga on Saturday, a two-year-old maiden special weight, could be a key race going forward. Two efforts, in particular, were fantastic, but also the field of mostly first-time-starter Spa babies was evenly bet, with five horses going off between 2-1 and 8-1, suggesting owners, barns, and clockers were touting their babies.
Making his debut for Steve Asmussen, the favorite Powerful certainly had a lot of positivity surrounding him coming into the race, and though he didn’t win, he showed his intelligence, taking cues from his rider to maneuver off of the rail before the turn and shift out in the stretch to see daylight.
A tad hesitant, he gathered boldness with each of the six furlongs and fought hard to catch up to, dual, and pass a hard-charging Full Moon Madness. In the gallop out, he went by the winner Bring Theband Home, who broke like a rocket from an outside post to sit in the catbird seat and pass the leader, Balsa, with ease and keep any threats at bay.
Physically, this Mark Casse second-time starter impressed me—bigger and stronger than most of the others. The Into Mischief colt is out of Tizatude, the half sister to Paynter, and after racing on the lead in his first try, we know he learned something new pressing and passing a Godolphin homebred trained by Brad Cox.