May 26, 2024

Gold Phoenix repeats in Del Mar Handicap; Motorious, Du Jour, Ceiling Crusher win graded stakes

Gold Phoenix repeats in the Del Mar H. (G2) at Del Mar (Photo by Benoit Photo)

The Pacific Classic (G1) may have been the feature race on Saturday’s action-packed card at Del Mar, but the seaside oval hosted four other graded stakes for good measure.

Chief among them was the Del Mar H. (G2), a 1 3/8-mile grass contest awarding a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Defending winner Gold Phoenix started as the 5-2 favorite off a victory in Del Mar’s Eddie Read (G2) and lived up to expectations under hot jockey Juan Hernandez, overcoming traffic to rally from 10th place and score by 1 1/4 lengths in 2:15.34.

“Plan A was to save ground. My horse relaxed really well today and was so patient,” said Hernandez after the race. “This time I go outside because I had a lot of horses in front of me. So I say I want to swing out and see if I can find something. If not I can go back inside. But I was able to find some space to come through, and after that he flew for home. He is getting better every race. Last time he was a little closer, and he was able to keep up that space and able to win that race. I just have to wait, and he loved the distance.”

Nineeleventurbo, Cash Equity, and Missed the Cut finished noses apart while battling for the minor awards, followed by Planetario, Cathkin Peak, Offlee Naughty, None Above the Law, Win the Day, Crosby Beach, and Azul Coast.

Gold Phoenix is trained by Phil D’Amato, who picked up a second Breeders’ Cup qualifier in the Green Flash H. (G3), a five-furlong grass dash awarding a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1). A dozen runners faced the starter, but in the end D’Amato’s 13-5 favorite Motorious proved much the best, rallying from seventh place to score by 1 3/4 lengths. Winner of Santa Anita’s San Simeon (G3) last winter, Motorious finished fast under jockey Geovanni Franco to complete the Green Flash in :56.07.

“I’m proud of all my horses. They all fired but this horse today was a cut above,” said D’Amato. “We’ll gladly take the ticket to the Breeders’ Cup. I thought maybe he (Franco) was waiting a little too long but I think he knew what he had under him and when he asked him he exploded. We got a lot of pace to run at and Geovanni just found his stride and once he pressed the button, he was gone.”

Longshot Cherubic Factor won a photo finish for second place over Beer Can Man, while Turn On The Jets, Lane Way, Bus Buzz, Bran, Silent Poet, Fast Buck, Packs a Wahlop, Helladic, and Kid Corleone completed the order of finish.

D’Amato wasn’t the only trainer to enjoy a lucrative Saturday afternoon at Del Mar. Bob Baffert and jockey Flavien Prat won the Pacific Classic with Arabian Knight, and earlier in the afternoon they teamed up to take the Del Mar Mile (G2) with Du Jour, The four-year-old gelding proved much the best in the one-mile grass contest, rallying boldly from seventh position to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:33.82.

“I had a good trip all the way around,” said Prat. “When I got a chance to take him out I did and he went. He’s a nice horse; certainly could be a Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) horse.”

Exaulted, Visitant, Irideo, Twist, and I’m a Gambler rounded out the top six while separated by heads and noses, followed by Count Again, Balnikhov, War At Sea, and Sumter.

The Del Mar Mile marked Du Jour’s first triumph in a graded stakes since nabbing the 2021 American Turf (G2) at Churchill Downs under Prat’s guidance, though he entered the Del Mar Mile in improving form, having won Del Mar’s ungraded Wickerr S. six weeks prior.

“That was exciting. He’s always been a good horse but he tailed off on us so we gave him a lot of time off,” said Baffert. “I told Prat he was training like he was when he rode him two years ago. One thing about these grass horses you can run them at an older age and he’s getting good at the right time.”

The Torrey Pines (G3) was supposed to feature a showdown between Baffert’s four-time graded stakes winner Faiza and the California-bred sensation Ceiling Crusher, but when Faiza scratched, Ceiling Crusher was left to crush the field. This she did by half a dozen lengths, leading all the way to complete the one-mile dirt test for three-year-old fillies in 1:37.41. Edwin Maldonado rode the winner on behalf of trainer Doug O’Neill.

“We did the old find the lead and improve your position,” said O’Neill. “That confident, arrogant thing you do and often times you get pie all over your face, but this particular time it worked perfectly.”

Kentucky Oaks (G1) alumna Flying Connection took second place by a clear margin over Justique, with Coffee in Bed, Ocean Club, Pink Ace, Anywho, and Infinite Diamond trailing the field.