With her well-timed rally as the 7-5 favorite in Sunday’s $302,106 Matriarch (G1) at Del Mar, Gary Barber’s Got Stormy was simultaneously making one last lunge for an Eclipse Award.
Connections hoped that if she got another Grade 1 in the Matriarch, that could sway some voters from her rival for champion turf female honors, Uni. Got Stormy had left Uni back in third in her course-record Fourstardave (G1), but Uni evened the score on the biggest stage – by catching Got Stormy in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) last out. And Uni boasts a course-record tally of her own in the First Lady (G1). Got Stormy needed to strengthen her Eclipse case, and the Mark Casse trainee delivered a clutch performance.
The pace figured to be lively as she likes, and when the course dried out well from last week’s rain, the stage was set for her. Under regular rider Tyler Gaffalione, Got Stormy settled several lengths back in sixth as Painting Corners zipped early. The 41-1 sprinter unsurprisingly retreated after fractions of :22.55 and :45.55 on the firm turf. The attending Storm the Hill put her head in front through six furlongs in 1:10.18, but soon succumbed to Juliet Foxtrot in the lane.
By that point, Got Stormy was rolling on the outside. The daughter of Get Stormy readily asserted in a final time of 1:34.24 for the mile, the best clocking since the feature moved from its old Hollywood Park home in 2014.
Gaffalione had an inkling that the Matriarch was Got Stormy’s for the taking.
“Funny – I told Mark (Casse) in the paddock: ‘I think this race might set up just like the Fourstardave. And if it does, we’ll win.’ Sure enough, it was exactly like that race,” her rider said. “Perfect. She just sat back there nice and relaxed and then when it came time she was gone.”
But there was a hard-luck story in Daddy Is a Legend. Runner-up to Uni in last year’s Matriarch, the 5-1 chance was hampered at the start and found herself last through the opening half-mile. Daddy Is a Legend gained late, only too late, and her thrust fell three-quarters of a length shy at the wire. Uni partisans will be tempted to play that “what if” card about the Matriarch result.
“I got squeezed at the start,” jockey Manny Franco said, “and I just clipped the heels of the 10 horse (Giza Goddess) just a bit. Then I was too far back and there was too much to do. It was unfortunate.”
Juliet Foxtrot held third from Toinette, who was 3 1/2 lengths clear of Storm the Hill. Simply Breathless checked in sixth. Significant Form was a non-threatening seventh to complete a winless Turf Festival for the Chad Brown barn. Next came Giza Goddess, Mucho Unusual, Lakerball, and Painting Corners.
Got Stormy has compiled a record of 18-8-3-3, $1,430,578. Useful at three when scoring in the 2018 Penn Oaks, Wild Applause, and Ontario Colleen (G3), the chestnut has improved markedly in the second half this term. She commenced her four-year-old campaign with a Gulfstream allowance romp, followed by a third in the Jenny Wiley (G1). Got Stormy was just denied late in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2), but returned from a freshening to run away with the De La Rose at Saratoga.
Casse did not fear bringing her back a week later in the Fourstardave, and Got Stormy rewarded the aggressive placement by dismissing males (and Uni) in a course-record 1:32.00. She tried to emulate past Casse star Tepin in the Woodbine Mile (G1), but placed second by a half-length, and she again couldn’t quite equal Tepin’s feat in the Breeders’ Cup. Nevertheless, Got Stormy has come a long way, with the prospect of more on tap in 2020.
“She’s amazing,” Casse said. “Put her on a van, put her on a plane, she just goes wherever and runs. We kept hearing that she’d only won one Grade 1, so we had to fix that. She’s been through a lot in the last month but she just keeps fighting. You don’t get a lot like her. She’ll definitely stay in training next year.”
Bred by Mt. Joy Stables, Pope McLean, Marc McLean, and Pope McLean Jr. in Kentucky, Got Stormy fetched $23,000 as a Keeneland September yearling and $45,000 at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May. Her dam, the Malabar Gold mare Super Phoebe, is a half-sister to multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Smooth Air as well as Overdriven.
Earlier in the $201,755 Hollywood Turf Cup (G2), the Breeders’ Cup-exiting favorite didn’t get the job done. In this case it was Turf (G1) near-misser United, who was outfooted by the 11-1 Oscar Dominguez.
United, the even-money favorite, moved into a better position passing the stands for the first time, only to drop back again on the backstretch. Oscar Dominguez had been unhurried at the tail of the field himself, but Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez helped him work out a favorable passage at the crucial point.
Managing to stay a couple of paths inside of the wide-traveling United on the final turn, the more agile Oscar Dominguez also quickened a touch faster to overtake Cleopatra’s Strike and Ward n’ Jerry in deep stretch. Although the lumbering United reduced the gap, Oscar Dominguez kept his neck in front in 2:28.17 for 1 1/2 miles.
Ward ‘n Jerry, who swooped on the inside in the frenetic finish, was a mere head behind United in third. Cleopatra’s Strike was another three-quarters of a length away, followed by Chosen Vessel, Brown Storm, High Promise, Itsinthepost, and pacesetter Zestful.
“No special instructions from the trainer (Richard Baltas),” Velazquez said. “He said ‘You’ve seen the PPs, you know how to ride, go do it.’ That’s how I like it. He came away from there well and the pace was fine. He was comfortable, so I left him alone. When we hit the three-eighths (pole) we squeezed between two horses and then he took it (clapping his hands together). It sure is nice when they do that.”
“Hall of Fame ride,” said Baltas, who was also celebrating the Del Mar training title. “This means a lot. We claimed the horse for $40,000 and he’s been overachieving the whole time we’ve had him. Today there was enough pace for him to run at, John was here to ride him and everything worked out.”
Bred by Aidan and Annemarie O’Brien’s Whisperview Trading in Ireland, Oscar Dominguez started out at Ballydoyle and broke his maiden in his fourth try at Dundalk. The son of Zoffany ventured to California at three and played musical barns until joining Baltas in February.
Oscar Dominguez developed into a graded stakes performer for his new connections. Owned by Nancy Messineo and Bruce Sands, the six-year-old was a close second in the San Juan Capistrano (G3) and Del Mar H. (G2) and most recently fourth in the John Henry Turf Championship (G2). He’s now earned $427,626 from a 37-6-6-4 line.
Out of the Fairy King mare American Queen, Oscar Dominguez hails from the black-type rich family of Poliglote and current performers Fleeting and Called to the Bar.
The $102,808 Cecil B. DeMille (G3) also witnessed an upset as 15-1 Smooth Like Strait went wire to wire in his two-turn debut. Piloted by Geovanni Franco, the Michael McCarthy juvenile got away with moderate midrace splits and spurted away by 2 1/2 lengths. Goliad crossed the wire in second from the fast-finishing Last Opportunity and 2-1 favorite Hit the Road.
A Cannon Thoroughbreds homebred, Smooth Like Strait completed the mile in 1:36.02 to advance his mark to 4-2-0-1, $96,351. The Midnight Lute colt was coming off a turf sprint maiden win at Santa Anita. He was produced by the Flower Alley mare Smooth as Usual, from the same female line as Siphonic, Dixie Dot Com, Laragh, and Summer Front.
The other noteworthy result from Del Mar’s closing day was the flop by comebacker Instagrand in the 4TH race. The even-money favorite was beaten a long way out and trailed home last behind Hronis Racing’s Horse Greedy and Much Better from the Bob Baffert barn. Horse Greedy has a thread in common with Got Stormy – he was also bred by the McLean family.