May 26, 2024

California Angel edges Diamond Wow, earns Juvenile Fillies Turf berth in Jessamine

California Angel (outside) wins the Jessamine Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

California Angel rallied to nail Diamond Wow in Wednesday’s $200,000 Jessamine S. (G2) at Keeneland, recording a 17-1 upset and stamping her ticket for the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) in the “Win & You’re In” race.

Closing last to first with regular rider Rafael Bejarano, the chestnut hails from the first crop of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome. George Leonard III trains for Chris Walsh, and California Angel was purchased for only $5,500 at the OBS Summer two-year-old sale in June.

“I thought she could win with a little luck, honestly,” said Leonard, who earned his first stakes victory. “We’re looking forward to California (and the Juvenile Fillies Turf at Del Mar.)”

California Angel improved to 2-for-2 on turf, winning her first career outing at Kentucky Downs as a 28-1 longshot. She was exiting a closing third in her lone dirt attempt, a six-furlong entry-level allowance at Churchill Downs in late September.

“I thought I had a special filly from the beginning, but I never dreamed of being here (in the trophy presentation on the Keeneland turf course) and winning this,” Leonard said. “After she won (her Sept. 8 debut at Kentucky Downs), I heard all this talk and we decided to try this. It’s just been a dream come true.”

Off as the sixth choice among 12 fillies, California Angel trailed by about 10 lengths in last during the early stages. The field bunched up nearing the completion of the far turn behind odds-on pacesetter Turnerloose, who had things her own way through opening fractions in :23.59, :47.73, and 1:13.31, and California Angel launched an extremely wide bid entering the stretch.

Gulfstream invader Diamond Wow, 9-1 with new jockey Mike Smith, closed from midpack to take a narrow lead in deep stretch, but could not withstand California Angel, who prevailed by a head in the final strides and completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.30.

“She had a good turn of foot today, I just wanted to keep her out of trouble,” Bejarano said. “(Down the stretch) I could have gone inside, but when I saw it was kind of tight I wanted to get her clear and let her run. I know she was going to come running at the end. She did. She proved it today.”

“Everything’s worked well, got an excellent rider in (Bejarano),” Leonard added. “He gets along with her good. She made a perfect run. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Turnerloose finished another head back in third, a neck better than late-running Dressed. Opalina, Roughly a Diamond, Misthaven, Kneesnhips, Bhoma, Queen Judith, Rigby, Boxing Day, and Ontheonesandtwos rounded out the order.

Bred in Kentucky by Irish National Stud, California Angel is out of the stakes-placed Tiz Wonderful mare Sea Mona, a half-sister to a pair of stakes winners.