Rusty Slipper bestrides Red Carpet with de Sousa

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

November 22nd, 2015

They haven’t exactly rolled out the red carpet in New York for Britain’s champion rider Silvestre de Sousa, who’s had one win since beginning his Big Apple venture a few weeks ago. But you might say that Del Mar has, at least figuratively.

In just his second mount at the seaside track, de Sousa guided Rusty Slipper to victory in Saturday’s $101,500 Red Carpet H. (G3) -- then survived an objection from Victor Espinoza aboard beaten favorite Elektrum to savor his first graded win stateside.

De Sousa, a Brazilian who’s compiled a successful international career, including a high-profile stint with Godolphin, was just crowned British Flat champion jockey during the October 17 Champions Day festivities. Fittingly, he scored his first North American win aboard a Godolphin runner, Astrologist, in a November 1 maiden at Belmont. He made the trek to California for a couple of Graham Motion trainees. Third in his Del Mar debut in the 6TH race aboard the maiden filly Whispering Softly, he struck with his very next opportunity in the Red Carpet.

Espinoza might say he struck literally. His mount, 5-2 choice Elektrum, had to check on the first of three turns, and he claimed foul, alleging that de Sousa caused the interference when steering Rusty Slipper across from post 11. The stewards reviewed the replays, but as track announcer Trevor Denman explained, they found the evidence “inconclusive” due to the location of the trouble. The incident occurred at a point where there isn’t a clear camera angle, so they allowed the result to stand.

Whatever transpired between Rusty Slipper and Elektrum, defending Red Carpet champion Three Hearts was already motoring up front in a bold front-running gambit. After an opening quarter in :24.81 on the firm turf, Three Hearts widened her advantage through splits of :48.44 and 1:13.55. The gap began to close as she clocked the mile in 1:38.92, but she continued to gallop on into the stretch. Hunch bettors might have gotten their hopes up: Three Hearts was ridden by Joe Talamo, fresh off his Friday wedding to longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Ellis, daughter of trainer Ron Ellis.

But Rusty Slipper would prevent any ideas of a fairy tale. Having settled into a good spot early, she commenced her bid rounding the far turn and was the first to pounce on the tiring Three Hearts. Elektrum, who’d been reserved a bit further back after her early inconvenience, was also rallying into contention. But she couldn’t bridge the gap, and reported home 1 1/2 lengths astern. (In the photo just above, the expression on Espinoza's face sums it up.)

Rusty Slipper negotiated 1 3/8 miles in 2:15.34 and rewarded her backers with a $14.20 win mutuel at 6-1. Three Hearts salvaged third by a diminishing nose from Trophee, Treve’s half-sister, who’s still casting about for that all-important black-type. Trainer Christophe Clement will surely find the right spot for her to earn some.

With this second Grade 3 laurel on her resume, Rusty Slipper has amassed $326,393 from her 17-6-0-2 line. Last year, the RMJ Stables colorbearer captured the Violet (G3) at Monmouth and finished a dead-heat third in Santa Anita’s Rodeo Drive (G1) before a 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). Her previous 2015 highlight was a course record-setting win in the September 19 One Dreamer at Kentucky Downs, and she was coming off a fourth in the October 17 Athenia (G3) at Belmont. The Athenia proved a key race on Saturday, with third-placer Lady Lara also landing the My Charmer (G3) at Gulfstream Park West.

The Kentucky-bred Rusty Slipper is a Lemon Drop Kid half-sister to Grade 3 hero Gulch Approval, from the immediate family of Grade 1-winning millionaires Student Council and Wicked Strong.

Quotes from Del Mar

Assistant trainer Alice Clapham on Rusty Slipper: “She broke well out of the gate, settled well and was given an excellent ride. Recently we had been thinking about bringing her out here for the Matriarch (G1) (at one mile on turf), but we liked the distance of this race and she likes firm ground. You’re more likely to get firm turf out here than you are back east at this time of year.”

Jockey Silvestre de Sousa on Rusty Slipper: “I had a great trip around there. I’d spoken to the trainer (Graham Motion) and he was very confident. He said he thought he had the best horse in the race. He told me to come away from there and get a good spot. I was concerned about the post (11 in an 11-horse field), but she came away well and we got a good spot. Then she went on from there.”

Jockey Victor Espinoza on runner-up Elektrum: “She (Rusty Slipper) really got me right out of the gate, at the three-eighths pole. He dropped over on me big time and I nearly clipped heels. It cost me the race. She should have come down.”

Jockey Joe Talamo on third-placer Three Hearts: “He (trainer Neil Drysdale) said to go for it, to put her in front. The fractions were easy; we were going good. She just got outquickened at the end.”

Photos courtesy of Benoit.