By Margaret Ransom
After an amazing summer so far, the Labor Day weekend marks the closing days of the summer racing season at Del Mar.
On Saturday, fillies take the spotlight in the $300,000 Del Mar Debutante (G1). Contested at its current distance of seven furlongs since 1993, the Debutante absolutely is the race the big connections want to win at the end of the season before heading back to real life about 100 miles north.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has saddled the winner of this event nine times, but two-time Triple Crown winner Bob Baffert is in hot pursuit with seven winners, and will send out two on Saturday, promising maiden winner Stellar Sound and the maiden Bast.
Hall of Fame jockeys Gary Stevens and Bill Shoemaker remain the race’s leading riders with five winners a piece.
It’s supposed to be a gorgeous weekend again in Del Mar with sunny skies and afternoon highs in the mid-70s all weekend.
Since it was first contested in 1951, some familiar fillies have made it to the Del Mar winner’s circle after the Debutante, including Terlingua (1978), who is better known as the dam of the great sire Storm Cat; the ill-fated champion Landaluce (1982); multiple Grade 1 winner Sharp Cat (1996); and Chilukki (1999), who would go on to win the division’s Eclipse Award that year. But since inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) winner Brave Raj cruised home to win the Debutante under Laffit Pincay Jr. in 1984, some even more historically significant girls have swept the Debutante and Juvenile Fillies, including Halfbridled (2003), Sweet Catomine (2004), Stardom Bound (2008), She’s a Tiger (2013), and Songbird (2015).
A year ago, multiple Grade 1 winner Bellafina took the Debutante and was favored in the Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs, but ran an uncharacteristically poor fourth and was the beaten favorite when fifth in this year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Inspiressa, the slight 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of eight, broke her maiden for trainer John Sadler first out over this surface at 5 ½ furlongs, defeating the highly-regarded Bast. The victory under Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, who has ridden four Debutante winners, returns looking for a fifth on this $850,000 daughter of the $6,000 stallion The Big Beast.
Inspiressa is owned by the West Point Thoroughbreds, Hronis Racing and William Sandbrook. Her debut was impressive in gate-to-wire fashion and a repeat of that effort makes her ripe for her first stakes victory.
Baffert’s best chance to send out a seventh Debutante winner is with Don Alberto Stables homebred Stellar Sound, a daughter of Tapit and the well-bred Unbridled’s Song mare Siren Serenade. She broke her maiden in her debut by a half-length in a nice stalking trip. While her figures aren’t exactly jaw dropping, she is loaded with talent and potential, as well as the connections to improve and win. Hall of Famer Mike Smith picks up the mount.
Powerfulattraction was six lengths behind Amalfi Sunrise to finish second in the Sorrento Stakes last out after breaking her maiden in her debut at Los Alamitos in June by 1 ¼ lengths. She improved from her first to second start so there’s no reason to think she won’t improve again. Will it be enough for the talented daughter of Commissioner? Pete Eurton, who saddled Weemissfrankie to the victory in 2011, tightens the girth on this $225,000 OBS March 2-year-old in training.
Trainer Doug O’Neill sends out ERJ Racing, Barber and Kenny, et al’s Schuylerville (G3) winner Comical off a well-beaten sixth and last in the Sorrento Stakes (G2) last time out. Offering no excuses, O’Neill sends the $100,000 daughter of Into Mischief out for another try over the Del Mar main track. Norberto Arroyo, who was the regular rider for the injured Amalfi Sunrise, picks up the mount and will be her fourth rider in as many starts.
Lazy Daisy is O’Neill’s other runner here off a nice maiden win at six furlongs a month ago. The daughter of Paynter, who sold for just $39,000 as an Ocala Breeders’ Sale 2-year-old in training just four months ago, logged a nice stalking performance to win by a half-length and earned some decent figures in the process. Rafael Bejarano, who hasn’t won this race so far, will be back aboard.
Jay Em Ess Stable’s Pure Xena defined the word “romp” when she debuted and won a five-furlong maiden race by 11 lengths geared way down six weeks ago. The Brian Koriner-trained daughter of Warrior’s Reward, who was a $370,000 OBS 2-year-old, was particularly impressive in that race as she dueled through some fairly quick fractions for how the surface has been playing all meet and drew away to the win. Aaron Gryder will be back aboard.
Peter Miller, who tightened the girth on Set Play to win this race in 2007, will send out Leucothea off a jaw-dropping win by 14 lengths for a $62,500 price tag two weeks ago and earned a huge speed figure in doing so. The daughter of Midshipman made her debut at Ellis Park, where she was beaten in a maiden race but erased all memory of that performance with her win last out. Abel Cedillo rides again.
Bast is the lone maiden in the field, but in the daughter of Uncle Mo’s defense she broke badly in her only start three weeks ago and was forced to race wide, which most certainly cost her some ground. Drayden Van Dyke will be back aboard for Baffert and so far has yet to ride a Debutante winner, but it likely won’t be long, and if this $500,000 yearling purchase gets a clean trip, it may be as soon as this year.
The Debutante is the sixth race with a post time of 6 p.m. PT.