Del Mar 2yos Analysis: Instagrand Wins Like a Future Superstar

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

August 16th, 2018

Budding superstar? Beast in the making? Future Kentucky Derby winner?

Perhaps it’s too early to bestow such lofty praise upon Instagrand, but this two-year-old son of Into Mischief was nothing less than breathtaking while winning Saturday’s $200,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar in a dominant manner strikingly reminiscent of his maiden victory at Los Alamitos.

With Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Instagrand was sensational. He came out of the gate well from post one and dueled with the well-regarded Owning through an opening quarter-mile in :23 flat. Then, as if deciding that he’d spent enough time racing alongside a rival, Instagrand opened up a one-length lead over Owning through a half-mile in :46.54. Finally, Instagrand delivered his finishing flourish, blasting through the fifth furlong in :11.63 and the final furlong in :12.10 to win by 10 ½ lengths without ever being asked for his best.

For his effort, Instagrand received an eye-catching 92 Beyer speed figure, a step forward from the 88 he posted in his debut. Best of all, Instagrand gives the impression that we haven’t seen anywhere near his best yet, which is why he’s emerged as a clear early favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and—yes—even the Kentucky Derby.

A bit later on the card, trainer Bob Baffert sent out his fifth juvenile winner of the meet when the heavily-bet The Aurelia Factor prevailed at odds of 7-10 in a five-furlong maiden race for fillies. Drayden Van Duke—fresh off his win aboard Instagrand—was in the saddle, but this time he had to work hard to secure the victory, sending The Aurelia Factor to the front through fractions of :22.22 and :45.97 before encouraging her to hold off a determined late charge from John Sadler’s Claudelle to win by a neck in :59.30 seconds.

Her final time might not seem too quick at first glance, but it was mildly faster than the time of :59.49 posted by Spin Lightning in an open maiden race on Sunday. Trained by Jeff Mullins, the son of Hard Spun employed much different tactics than The Aurelia Factor, settling back in ninth place early on before rallying fast to close four lengths in the final furlong and win going away by 1 ¼ lengths under Flavien Prat.

Future grass stars had a chance to shine in a pair of one-mile maiden races conducted last week, one for fillies and one for colts and geldings. In the race for fillies, Peter Miller’s Angel Alessandra unleashed an eye-catching turn-of-foot to get up and win by a bit less than a length, running her final quarter-mile in about :23 1/5 to stamp herself as a possible contender for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. I).

The race for colts did not produce as strong a finish, but the early pace was nearly two seconds faster, so direct comparisons cannot be drawn. In any case, the Irish shipper Rijeka—making his U.S. debut for trainer Richard Baltas—was clearly best, parlaying a mid-pack trip into a decisive 2 ¾-length victory over race favorite King of Speed, who had finished third in a similar race on July 28th at Del Mar.

Looking Ahead

The action will return to dirt this Saturday when seven fillies sprint six furlongs in the first race of the day, a maiden special weight. #3 True Validity, third behind Brill and Del Mar May in a deep maiden race on opening day at Del Mar, is the 9-5 favorite on the morning line for trainer Simon Callaghan and looms as the filly to beat. But #7 Devils Dance, runner-up in a maiden claiming race at Del Mar last month, has comparable speed figures and might be a worthy rival. It could also pay to keep an eye on #1 After the Rose, a well-bred daughter of Pioneerof the Nile. After the Rose sold for $500,000 as a yearling, and while trainer Carla Gaines isn’t really known for winning with first-time starters, that doesn’t mean After the Rose couldn’t be one to watch down the road.

In the ninth race on the card, colts and geldings will take the spotlight in another six-furlong maiden race on the main track. In many respects, the race is shaping up to be a battle between horses who enter off defeats against some of the most promising two-year-olds seen so far this year—examples include #7 Istanbul (runner-up behind Roadster on July 29th), #8 Dueling (second to stablemate Rowayton on July 21st), and #4 No Treble (runner-up to Instagrand in the latter’s debut at Los Alamitos). But take note, the 3-1 morning line favorite is #10 Game Winner, a first-time starter from the barn of Bob Baffert.

As a son of Candy Ride out of the A.P. Indy mare Indyan Giving (whose dam is the five-time graded stakes winner Fleet Indian), Game Winner is definitely bred to go long and has the pedigree of a potential Kentucky Derby contender. That said, his recent workouts at Del Mar have been fast enough to suggest that he’ll be very competitive on Saturday, hence his status as the morning line favorite. I'm excited to see how he performs.

Enjoy the races!