Unblinkered Om upsets Del Mar Derby
Maybe Om viewed the parading of American Pharoah after Del Mar's 4TH race as a pep talk, recalling that he'd beaten the future Triple Crown winner in a maiden here last summer. Maybe it was shedding the blinkers. Maybe it was picking up Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens. Maybe it was an off day from 1-5 favorite Prospect Park. But whatever factors combined in Sunday's $250,500 Del Mar Derby (G2), Om benefited from them all to engineer a complete form reversal from the August 9 La Jolla (G3).
In the La Jolla, Om set a moderate pace, only to be left standing by Prospect Park. And for the first five furlongs or so of the Del Mar Derby, the plot looked very much the same. Om was striding along comfortably on the front end, actually going a tad quicker than last time through splits of :23.58 and :47.71 on the firm turf. Prospect Park, who broke alertly from post 2, angled out to track the leader entering the clubhouse turn. All down the backstretch, favorite backers would have been quite pleased, in the confident expectation that Prospect Park had avoided the dreaded pocket, and could take Om whenever he wanted him.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the coronation. Rounding the far turn through six furlongs in 1:11.86, Om was traveling better than Prospect Park, who suddenly didn't look so menacing. Om continued with great gusto into the stretch, and Prospect Park had no answer. As Om put the race away, Prospect Park was unable to hold second. Royal Albert Hall -- a belated, non-threatening third in the La Jolla -- easily passed Prospect Park by 2 1/2 lengths for the runner-up spot.
Meanwhile, Om was in splendid isolation, crossing the wire 2 1/4 lengths clear. The 6-1 chance negotiated 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.79 and returned $15.
This was the kind of performance that Om was capable of going into the La Jolla, but Prospect Park proved a buzzsaw in his turf debut. Ironically, had Prospect Park not run here, the Del Mar Derby result would have been interpreted as a compliment to him. Indeed, the second and third from the La Jolla not only ran one-two in the Del Mar Derby, but the margin between Om and Royal Albert Hall was virtually the same. The conclusion is that Prospect Park failed to fire.
Yet credit where it's due to Om, who performed right up to trainer Dan Hendricks' gaudy stat of 33% success in the blinkers-off category. And credit to Stevens, who's a master at rationing out speed. Om's early zip can be a real weapon on turf, so it's really satisfying to see him win something more significant than the maiden that American Pharoah lost.
Om ranks as the second major winner from the first crop of Munnings, preceded by Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) heroine I'm a Chatterbox (disqualified from what would have been a hard-fought score in the Coaching Club American Oaks [G1]).
Photo courtesy of Benoit.
Quotes from Del Mar publicity:
Jockey Gary Stevens, Om: "I’m so pleased; this was special. I’m just glad Danny (trainer Hendricks) gave me a shot and put me up on him. I worked him three weeks ago (August 20) and he went great without any blinkers. Then two weeks ago (August 27) I worked him again and they said blinkers on. I asked why? They said he runs in blinkers. I worked him and told them I didn’t like him in blinkers at all; that he got too aggressive with it. Then last Wednesday I’m going to work him and he runs off on the pony. We had to abort the work and I just two-minute licked him. I told Danny to just work him the next day (September 3) with Cisco (assistant trainer Francisco Alvarado) and he went easy for him. And here he runs huge today (with blinkers off). As you can see, it is a very inexact science. But he’s a nice horse and I’m so glad for Danny."
Trainer Dan Hendricks, Om: "We pointed for this. It’s just good when everything pays off. You do your due diligence and the harder you work the luckier you get. He’s what I would call a really old-school horse. He’s just a coarse, tough, good feeling horse and it worked out just the way we’d talked about for two weeks. I’ve won just about every Derby in Southern California – Santa Anita, Hollywood, Oak Tree and now this one. This was my dream to win this race and it really means a lot to me -- as much as my Santa Anita Derby (G1)."
Jockey Kent Desormeaux, third-placer Prospect Park: "He was right where we wanted to be. He was just cantering. Then I asked him and he just kept cantering. No response. No response at all."