March 25, 2023

Nolde takes inside path to Del Mar Derby glory

Nolde wins the Del Mar Derby under an inspired ride by Victor Espinoza © BENOIT PHOTO

Just denied in a photo in his Oceanside stakes debut, Jerry Moss’s homebred Nolde got his neck in front in a frenetic finish to Sunday’s $251,404 Del Mar Derby (G2). The John Shirreffs trainee was eligible to improve since Del Mar’s opening day feature, but Victor Espinoza produced a Hall of Fame ride to maximize his chances.

Bettors expected the second leg of the track’s sophomore turf series, the August 4 La Jolla H. (G3), to be the key prep, and dispatched La Jolla runner-up Neptune’s Storm as the 2-1 favorite. That view appeared to hold for much of the way in the Del Mar Derby.

Pacesetter Kingly, who posted a mild upset in the La Jolla, went forward through splits of :23.44, :47.80, and 1:11.63 on the firm turf. Neptune’s Storm kept close tabs in second, accosted Kingly on the far turn, and gained the upper hand in the stretch. Although Neptune’s Storm gradually put away the stubborn Kingly, he could not put the race away as the closers swooped.

The 6-1 Nolde had been switched off a little further off the pace than in the Oceanside, saving ground throughout instead of racing on the outside. Espinoza cut the corner turning for home, and delivering him later than in the Oceanside, he knifed between Kingly and Neptune’s Storm and struck the front.

Originaire, another 6-1 shot, was also flashing home wider out. Indeed, Trakus clocked him in a field-fastest final eighth in :11.37. But Originaire had more ground to make up, and Nolde reached the wire first to finish 1 1/8 miles in a sprightly 1:46.98.

Neptune’s Storm, beaten a neck and a head in third, was himself a neck up on the 38-1 Hackberry. Fifth-placer Kingly went down by a grand total of 1 1/4 lengths. Moody Jim, the 3-1 second choice, was a non-threatening sixth. Nolo Contesto never contended after being inconvenienced by Kingly at the start, and Visitant and Parsimony rounded out the order of finish. Walker Stalker was scratched.

Nolde started out on dirt, and after a pair of unplaced efforts, finished a distant third in Omaha Beach’s maiden romp at a sloppy Santa Anita February 2. The son of Pioneerof the Nile (American Pharoah’s sire) didn’t progress much when second to All Good at the same track April 13, but blossomed on the switch to turf. Nolde promptly broke his maiden, cleared his entry-level allowance condition, and nearly made it a hat trick in the Oceanside.

“The Oceanside prepared him nicely for this, which was the plan,” Shirreffs said. “We were very happy with the way the horse trained for the race. Victor has ridden him a number of times and really knows the horse. He got him settled in a nice position and Nolde has a really nice turn of foot. We’re happy to have him ride our horses. He’s a great rider.”

Espinoza could tell that Nolde had his game face on.

“Sometimes when you get on this horse, he’s nice and easy going,” the Hall of Famer said. “Not today. He was strong; like a bull. I like that. He was telling me he was ready. When we ran last time, I knew he ran a good race, but I knew he’d be better next time. He’s got a long stride and distance is going to be good for him. He’s not an easy horse to ride, but he’s got a lot of talent. We’ve just got to figure out a way to bring it out. When I sent him inside today, he just went. He was ready.”

Kentucky-bred Nolde is out of the Grade 3-placed Sister Moon. That Dixie Union mare, herself a Moss homebred, set a 5 1/2-furlong track record on Del Mar’s old Polytrack. The family traces to influential producer Grey Flight, via daughter Pleasant Flight, one of the full siblings to What a Pleasure.

The $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf also went down to the wire, with 3-5 favorite Encoder finally wearing down front runner Billy Batts by a head. Sporting the colors of meet-leading owners Hronis Racing and piloted by leading rider Flavien Prat, the John Sadler pupil was stretching out from a five-furlong debut win.

Billy Batts, the 3-1 second choice, did his utmost to take advantage of his experience at a mile. Second to Fighting Seabee, the eventual With Anticipation (G3) winner, two starts back, he was coming off a course-and-distance maiden score, and controlled the pace here.

Encoder, reserved in fourth in the five-horse field early, still had work to do in midstretch. But the English Channel colt lifted late, rattling off his last furlong in :11.68 according to Trakus to stay perfect in 1:35.31.

The top two turned it into a virtual match race. Slow-starting Ardenlee Star reported home 6 1/2 lengths back in third in his U.S. debut, heading fellow European import Commander. Raging Whiskey trailed, Hit the Road was scratched with a cough, and Croughavouke withdrew in favor of Monday’s Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf.

“I thought it was a very good race for him,” Sadler said. “He just put his head down and was determined. I don’t think there’ll be any problem for him with more distance. Pace in front is always going to help him because he relaxes so nicely. He’s not speedy but he has a nice turn of foot. First and second starts so we don’t know much about him but he’s definitely a nice colt headed the right way.”

Encoder is the first registered foal from the Hard Spun mare Nono Rose, herself a half-sister to Mining My Own – the dam of 2009 Kentucky Derby (G1) shocker Mine That Bird and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Dullahan. Nono Rose is also a half to Aspen Mountain, dam of current Shoemaker Mile (G1) hero Bolo, and another half-sibling, stakes scorer Golden Sunray, has produced Grade 3-placed Golden Domer and this year’s Meydan Classic runner-up Golden Jaguar during the Dubai World Cup Carnival.

Bred by Peter Lamantia and Greg Ramsby in Kentucky, Encoder sold for $60,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October yearling. He’s earned $96,600 from his two starts, a most encouraging beginning for a May 1 foal bred to improve with maturity.