Gary and Mary West’s homebred Fighting Mad stormed her way into the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) with another front-running display in Sunday’s $250,500 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) at Del Mar.
Following up on her wire job in the May 31 Santa Maria (G2), where she was a 10-1 overlay, the Bob Baffert trainee was well respected this time as the 9-5 favorite. Fighting Mad was drawn widest of the cast in post 6, and jockey Abel Cedillo left nothing to chance by hustling her out of the gate.
The rest hardly knew what hit them in those opening strides. Fighting Mad cleared the field with room to spare passing the wire for the first time, and angled over before the clubhouse turn. From the opening quarter in :23.15, she had her rivals right where she wanted them.
Defending champion Ollie’s Candy raced in second at every call. Creeping closer at the half in :46.55, she saw Fighting Mad open up on her again through 6 furlongs in 1:10.57. Turf performer Dogtag, hitherto stalking in third, began to spin her wheels. Ce Ce passed her, but didn’t travel with much alacrity turning for home. Longshot Hang a Star wasn’t getting involved, and neither was the idiosyncratic Hard Not to Love who trailed throughout.
Fighting Mad remained in command despite slowing to the mile in 1:36.53. Ollie’s Candy was the only competitor to try to make a race of it, chasing gamely and finally gaining ground late. But Fighting Mad was still a half-length up at the wire while finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.46.
If the knee-jerk reaction was to question her aptitude for seeing out another sixteenth in the Breeders’ Cup, Baffert revealed a reason for her flagging. Fighting Mad had lost her composure completely in the paddock, and the Hall of Famer praised her for turning in that kind of effort in the circumstances:
“I was a little bit worried about her because she was getting pretty warm in the paddock. But Abel (Cedillo) knows her pretty well and he knows speed is her weapon. To look at her you wouldn’t think she could go (a distance), but when she started opening up, I figured he must know what he’s doing. Basically, she ran them off their feet. The way she acted in the paddock, she ran an incredible race. She was trembling and sweating and I was worried, but once the race started she was pretty serious.”
Cedillo had masterminded a similar trip aboard Baffert’s Thousand Words in Saturday’s Shared Belief.
“I had the same instructions today that I had yesterday – get her out of there and see if you can get to the front,” the rider said. “She really broke sharply and want to go right away. I got her to relax some on the backside, then she went right on with it. She’s just an amazing filly.”
The consistent Ollie’s Candy pulled 4 3/4 lengths clear of third-placer Ce Ce, who was beaten virtually the same margin by Fighting Mad last time in the Santa Maria. Hang a Star got up for fourth, with Dogtag and Hard Not to Love concluding the strung-out field.
Fighting Mad had scored her first stakes victory at Del Mar last summer, romping in the Torrey Pines (G3) that also marked her two-turn debut. She’s now 3-for-3 routing. Her sprint stakes attempts have not gone as well, a remote seventh behind record-setting champion Covfefe in the 2019 Miss Preakness (G3) and a fourth (demoted from third) in the May 17 Desert Stormer (G3). The 4-year-old sports an overall record of 8-5-1-0, $444,008.
With her high speed over a route, Fighting Mad has a style somewhat reminiscent of the same connections’ Maximum Security – both by the same sire, New Year’s Day, who was himself trained by Baffert for the Wests. If both continue to advance to their respective Breeders’ Cup targets, the parallels could draw closer. But Fighting Mad is playing catch-up compared to the resume of champion Maximum Security, who overcame a much more challenging trip to prevail in his San Diego H. (G2) comeback July 25.
The Kentucky-bred Fighting Mad was produced by the Forestry mare Smokey’s Love, from the family of 2005 Florida Derby (G1) hero High Fly and multiple Dubai Carnival Group 3 scorer Estimraar. Among her more recent relatives is Japanese Grade 3 winner Shine Garnet, sixth versus males in the May 10 NHK Mile Cup (G1).