Opening Weekends at two of America’s most storied tracks brought race fans as much excitement as they could handle. On the West Coast, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club hosted a pair of graded turf events while Saratoga began its 150thrace meet with a bang, boasting five graded stakes over three days. We also witnessed Besilu Stables’ Champion Royal Delta return to greatness, wiring in the short field in the $750,000 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.
It was only the second win on the year for the defending champion older female, who also took the Sabin Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February. Since then, she finished a disappointing tenth in the Dubai World Cup on March 30, and then placed second in the Fleur de Lis behind Funny Proposition at Churchill Downs on June 15.
The 5-year-old Bill Mott trainee showed no fear on Saturday, as she was off to the lead in the opening quarter and never looked back, setting a new record for margin of victory in the Delaware Handicap by a whopping 10 ¾ lengths under guidance from Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith as the odds-on -favorite in the field of five.
"That was about as easy at it gets," Smith said." She brought her 'A' game today. She jumped out there, got into stride right away, and made every step a winning one. I just cruised around there with her. Everyone expected it and we did what we were supposed to do, so it is just a sigh of relief. I just wanted to make sure I stayed on and crossed the wire. It all went very well. This race should really step her forward."
The victory also marked her second consecutive in the “Del Cap,” however this year’s field only brought four competitors, only two of which had won graded stakes, with Royal Delta the only horse to have attained Grade 1 status. She is the sixth filly or mare to repeat in the Delaware Handicap, and her next start is projected to be the Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga on August 25.
The $300,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks brought together five tested 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, including this year’s upset Kentucky Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar and multiple graded winner Unlimited Budget, both from the barn of Todd Pletcher. While Unlimited Budget went off as the 1.20-to-1 favorite, the Kentucky Oaks winner bounced back to an impressive six-length victory as the 2.15-to-1 second choice with jockey Javier Castellano at the reins for King of Prussia Stable.
PRINCESS OF SYLMAR WON HER SECOND GRADE 1 IN THE COACHING CLUB AMERICAN OAKS
My Happy Face led the way through the race’s first six furlongs with Princess of Sylmar stalking the pace in last through the first half-mile. She moved up to third after three quarters and commanded the lead from My Happy Face in the stretch. My Happy Face held on for second, with Marathon Lady at odds of 13.50-to-1 in third. Unlimited Budget was never a factor.
Princess of Sylmar’s upset victory in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks at odds of 38.80-to-1 raised a number of eyebrows and many questioned if this filly was the real deal. She silenced any doubters on Saturday, recording her second Grade 1 victory and fourth stakes win on the year.
"I think everyone kind of lost sight of the fact that going into the Kentucky Oaks, it was billed as the best Oaks we've seen in 25 years; this filly wins it and gets virtually no respect," Pletcher said. "I think today she put herself at the top of the leader board (for three-year-old fillies), and now everyone understands that the Kentucky Oaks was a real race."
The win for Pletcher in the CCA Oaks marked his fifth all-time. Princess of Sylmar is certainly at the head of the class in the hunt for champion 3-year-old filly after Saturday’s win.
Wright and LaPenta’s Jeranimo took the $300,000 Eddie Read Stakes going away as the 2.90-to-1 favorite going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. Jeranimo trailed the field in last early, still ninth through the opening half-mile, with Fed Biz setting the early pace. While Fed Biz was still in front through six furlongs, the Michael Pender-conditioned Jeranimo advanced to seventh, still twelve lengths off the lead with three furlongs to go. Fed Biz gave way to Fly Lexis Fly in the stretch, as Jeranimo made up nine lengths to get to fifth as the field turned for home. The Irish-Bred Vagabond Shoes made a late charge but it was not enough to sustain Jeranimo, who ran the final furlong in an impressive :11.37 seconds with jockey Rafael Bejarano aboard.
JERANIMO PUT IN AN IMPRESSIVE EDDIE READ PERFORMANCE
Vagabond Shoes was second, Fly Lexis Fly dropped to third, with Fed Biz finishing fourth. This marked the second Grade 1 victory for the seven-year-old son of Congaree. He won the 2012 Shoemaker Mile Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park, but finished fourth in the 2013 edition in his last start. Jeranimo ran sixth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita, but bounced back to win the San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita in his first start of 2013, also at nine furlongs. His only other effort came as a seventh-place finish in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs. It would seem that the nine-furlong distance is becoming more preferable for the 7-year-old.
"It seems almost surreal to say the horse redeemed himself when he had nothing to prove," Pender commented. "They're going to say this was a weak rendition of the Eddie Read, but all he has done is run second to Accclamation and take down the winning honors today.”
"I think when Jeranimo is in a real horse race, where there's speed, tactical speed, and deep closers like himself, that's when he's able to shine. And today he had perfect conditions."
The Sanford Stakes on Saratoga’s opening weekend perennially showcases the East Coast’s top 2-year-old talent and Sunday was no different. The six juveniles that faced off in the Sanford were all first-time maiden winners. In fact, the only horse that had ever suffered a lost prior to Sunday’s contest was Hollywood Talent, who ran second to fellow Sanford contender Debt Ceiling in the Bashford Manner at Churchill Downs last month.
Sent off as the 7.20-to-1 fifth choice, Anstu Stables’ Wired Bryan, who was second behind Hollywood Talent through the opening quarter, was able to grab the lead after four furlongs and opened up in the final stages of the race to win by 5 ¼ lengths. Hollywood Talent slipped to third with late-rallying longshot Southern Blessing getting up for second.
With jockey Shaun Bridgmohan up, the Michael Dilger trainee remained undefeated after taking his five-furlong debut maiden by 7 ¼ lengths on June 19 at Belmont Park.
"He was a total professional," Bridgmohan said in crediting Dilger's training job. "He left the gate running and he had running on his mind. For a young horse to be down on the fence like that--he got passed around the turn--and he showed enough heart to come back and put them away late. He's a pretty decent little horse.”
The Three Chimneys Hopeful Stakes for two-year-olds going seven furlongs on September 2 would be a logical next start for Wired Bryan, a New York-bred son of Stormy Atlantic.
The thrilling stretch duel between Brazen Persuasion and Bahnah resulted in a dead heat in Friday’s $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes, the opening day feature at the Spa. Brazen Persuasion led the field the entire way under jockey Rosie Napravnik for trainer Steve Asmussen, and the battle was on after the Bret Calhoun-trained Brazen Persuasion advanced to second after the opening half-mile. The two simultaneously crossed the wire in 1:12.12.
THE SCHUYLERVILLE STAKES ENDING MIRRORED LAST YEAR'S TRAVERS RESULT
"I didn't really like the fact that I was on the inside of the other speed, so they were kind of forcing us to go," Napravnik said of the pace pressure from the entry. "I'll tell you what, this little thing that I hit the wire with (Bahnah), she's about half the size of any of them. They both ran super hard and our filly is really talented. She ran very well.”
"Right before the wire,” jockey Corey Lanerie said, “I felt I was edging right to her, but I didn't know if I got the bob or not."
A likely rematch for the two winners could be the September 1, Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes, also at Saratoga.