December 3, 2023

Cambodia regains winning touch in Yellow Ribbon title defense

Cambodia and jockey Drayden Van Dyke win the Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2) at Del Mar on August 4, 2018 © BENOIT PHOTO

Whether it was a case of reveling in a return to Del Mar, profiting from the drop from Grade 1 company, peaking third off the layoff, or a combination thereof, Cambodia readily retained her title in Saturday’s $202,070 Yellow Ribbon H. (G2). The 8-5 favorite swept from just off the pace to win by 2 1/2 lengths in a brisk time of 1:40.51 for 1 1/16 miles on the firm turf.

Campaigned as a homebred by Winter Quarter Farm, whose Don Robinson bred her with the late Eric Kronfeld’s Maverick Productions, Cambodia turned the Yellow Ribbon/John C. Mabee (G2) double here last summer. The War Front mare did not add to her win column during Del Mar’s Bing Crosby meet in November, but finished a meritorious third to European shippers Wuheida and Rhododendron in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1). She also endured trouble when fourth in the Matriarch (G1).

Cambodia had yet to hit the board in her two appearances this season, but the six-year-old hinted of rounding into form for Tom Proctor. Sixth in the April 14 Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland and only beaten a couple of lengths in seventh in the Just a Game (G1) on Belmont Day, she brought the class edge and made the most of it.

With the scratch of presumptive pacesetter Fahan Mura, Sassy Little Lila took over the front-running role. Ancient Secret pressed her through fractions of :23.33 and :47.03, until Sassy Little Lila began to get away from her passing the six-furlong mark in 1:10.57.

No sooner had the leader rid herself of one challenge, than a far more serious threat in Cambodia rolled up on the outside. The favorite had always traveled comfortably within striking distance, crept closer, and delivered the coup de grace turning for home. Cambodia stamped her class in a few strides under a perfectly judged ride by Drayden Van Dyke, who also landed Saturday’s Graduation S. aboard Tap the Wire, a survivor of the tragic San Luis Rey fire last December.

The rest were in a heap for the minors. Madame Stripes, the lukewarm second choice at 9-2, edged the 14-1 Sophie P and fellow 9-2 chance Hallie Belle for runner-up honors. Storm the Hill, Midnight Crossing, Pantsonfire, and Beau Recall were next in the herd, but they were clear of Sassy Little Lila, Tisbutadream, and Ancient Secret.

Cambodia has earned $778,913 from a record of 18-7-0-6. The bay notched her first stakes tally in the Gallorette (G3) on 2017 Preakness Day, and she’s placed in the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3), Marie G. Krantz Memorial, Daisy Devine, and Dahlia.

Kentucky-bred Cambodia is out of the winning Smart Strike mare Sassifaction, herself a half-sister to four stakes winners including multiple South African co-champion Overarching (dam of Group 1 victress Lady of the House) and Grade 3 hero Temeraine.

Quotes from Del Mar

Owner/co-breeder Don Robinson on Cambodia: “We really wanted her to do this. I’ve never had a horse like this and we decided to run her at six, because it’s such a thrill and I feel like I’m vindicated. She’s run in two Grade 1s this year and they don’t give those away. She was close (despite finishing sixth and seventh) so we thought maybe she’d make it out here. This is her spot and she loves it.”

Winning rider Drayden Van Dyke: “She put me up there in the race. She’s got that natural speed and she wants to be in the race. I was just biding my time; I had a couple to beat, but I had good aim. She likes this turf course, no doubt. It’s all clicking for me right now. I’m feeling good and riding good. I want to keep it going.”

Jockey Geovanni Franco on runner-up Madame Stripes: “It was a good trip for me. She came running. But the winner was just too good.”

Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux, who rode Sophie P in third: “She gave me a great run. If she keeps doing it like this, she’ll win some of these things.”