September 26, 2020

Nucky shocks after Eight Rings loses rider in eventful Del Mar Futurity

Nucky springs a 35-1 upset in the Del Mar Futurity (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com

When 1-2 favorite Eight Rings suddenly swerved left, unseated Drayden Van Dyke, and knocked Flavien Prat off Storm the Court, Monday’s $301,053 Del Mar Futurity (G1) took a dramatic turn right from the opening strides. The surprises continued as the race unfolded, and the 35-1 Nucky – the second-longest shot on the board – survived an objection to come out on top of a Rockingham Ranch/Peter Miller exacta.

Bob Baffert’s Eight Rings was the one to beat off a sensational debut score over next-out romper Express Train, but ended up beating himself. Leaving post 2 next to the rail-drawn Storm the Court, Eight Rings broke in a bit and soon corrected course. All appeared to be in good order until, without warning, Eight Rings lurched leftward. Van Dyke had no chance of staying in the saddle with the violent change of direction, and Prat likewise had no recourse as Eight Rings slammed into his mount, Storm the Court.

The field was down to six actual contestants by the end of the first furlong. Baffert still had a chance of extending his record Del Mar Futurity haul to 15 with his second runner, the 4-1 Garth, who was setting a contested pace. After taxing splits of :21.89 and :44.90, though, Garth abruptly quit.

As Ginobili passed Garth on the inside, Nucky and Fore Left overtook him on the outside. Fore Left soon retreated, leaving Nucky and Ginobili to duke it out turning for home. The pair bumped. Nucky was going the better of the two entering the stretch, with jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. not asking him as much as Florent Geroux was driving Ginobili.

Considering the fierce pace, one might have thought that Nucky’s better-fancied stablemate, Best Pal (G2) runner-up Wrecking Crew, would benefit the most late. Yet he couldn’t find quite enough, and Nucky kept finding more. Forging ahead of the fading Ginobili, Nucky widened his margin over Wrecking Crew to 2 3/4 lengths and finished seven furlongs in 1:25.52.

Defense Wins closed for third, just a half-length off Wrecking Crew. Ginobili checked in fourth, 9 1/4 lengths clear of Fore Left, and Garth was a further 15 1/2 lengths back in last.

Eight Rings completed the course on his own, while an outrider had already nabbed Storm the Court. According to Del Mar publicity, both horses passed veterinary checks after their misadventure. Prat, who got right up from the track, came back to win the nightcap.

Van Dyke had to be transported to Scripps La Jolla Hospital for what was described as diagnostic testing. Britney Eurton reported via Twitter that he amazingly escaped with no broken bones.

The stewards took a look at the Eight Rings incident, and their inquiry found no one at fault for the mishap. But their work was not done, for Ginobili’s trainer, Richard Baltas, claimed foul against Nucky for the scrimmaging into the stretch. The stewards ruled that the “slight contact” did not affect the order of finish and declared the result official.

Nucky sparked a $72 win payout and $202.40 exacta ($1) with Wrecking Crew, a Rockingham colorbearer who is co-owned with David Bernsen.

“What a way to end the meet,” Arroyo said. “I don’t deserve this. But somebody wanted me to have it. I thank the Lord up above. My aim was to track the 2 horse (Eight Rings).  My horse broke good and I was looking for the 2. By the 4 1/2 (furlong pole) I couldn’t see him at all and I knew something must have happened. Then I just went to riding my horse. He responded well. I don’t know if he was the best horse in the race to start, but he was the best to finish. He responded well at the end.”

Miller expressed concern for the horses and riders involved in the early incident.

“It was obviously unfortunate,” the winning trainer said. “You never want to see any horse or rider go down. My first thoughts are with the horses and the riders. I don’t know what happened, but after that, we won clear. I wasn’t worried (about the objection). They bumped slightly, but the number 4 (Ginobili) was tiring. To finish one-two in the Del Mar Futurity, for me, I mean it’s just incredible under any circumstances.”

Unlike his stablemate, Nucky had a more exposed profile of a juvenile who needed four starts to break his maiden, and twice ran for a tag. The Kentucky-bred began his career in his home state, finishing a distant fifth in his Churchill Downs unveiling June 8. A close second at the same venue when dropped into a $75,000 maiden claimer, he could do no better than fourth behind Letmeno at Ellis Park July 13.

Nucky improved markedly at Del Mar. Romping by 10 1/2 in a $100,000 maiden claiming event on August 21, he addressed the class questions on the fairly quick turnaround here. His resume now reads 5-2-1-0, $217,750.

Bred by Barry Becker and Judith Becker, the Ghostzapper colt RNA’d for $130,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The dark bay is the first registered foal from the Grade 3-winning Lady Ten, who was bought by the Beckers for $250,000 while carrying him at Keeneland November. The Rock Hard Ten mare was initially trained by Baffert, for whom she captured the 2012 Autumn Miss (G3) at Santa Anita and the Sandy Blue at Del Mar.

A less dramatic upset occurred earlier in the $102,106 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf. European form held sway as Irish shipper Yesterdayoncemore stretched clear of fellow imports Croughavouke and Applecross to break her maiden at odds of 11-1.

Trained by Fozzy Stack, the No Nay Never filly had been competing against some salty company at home. Yesterdayoncemore was twice runner-up as the favorite in Dundalk maidens, including when beaten by Aidan O’Brien’s King Neptune. Then she tried Group company, finishing seventh to O’Brien’s Etoile in the Naas Fillies’ Sprint (G3) and fifth to Jessica Harrington’s Albigna in the Balanchine (G2). Yesterdayoncemore was most recently spotted in a Galway nursery, where she was a close fifth under 126 pounds.

The change of scenery agreed with her at Del Mar. Breaking sharply for Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza, Yesterdayoncemore settled into a good spot a few lengths off the pace set by 6-5 favorite Shedaresthedevil. But the favorite, making her turf debut, had no answer when Yesterdayoncemore cruised by in the stretch, and she ultimately faded to fourth.

Yesterdayoncemore crossed the wire a handy length clear of the pursuing Croughavouke. Applecross rallied belatedly to overtake Shedaresthedevil and grab third, another 3 1/4 lengths back. Overjoyed closed for fifth in an ambitious career debut, making her one to watch for Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale.

“She did it well,” Stack said. “She looked the part at home and for the better part of two weeks we’ve been here. Victor gave her a good ride and it worked out well. She’ll stay here and she’s got plenty of options now. We were looking at Flavien (Prat) and Florent (Geroux), but they were taken and Victor was open. He’s won a Triple Crown, which is a heck of a lot more than I’ve done. ”

Espinoza noted that Yesterdayoncemore’s alert start helped to work out the ideal trip.

“They said in a perfect world, if you can sit three or four lengths back, cover her up, and then make a late run – it worked out just that way,” the Hall of Famer said. “She’s built strong and I thought she’d love this turf. Sure enough. I was just going to play it with her off the break, and she broke great. This kind of horse will pretty much take you there. She did today. This has been a very good meet for me. I’m very pleased. I really couldn’t have asked for more.”

Campaigned by D P Racing, Mrs. Paul Shanahan, and Mrs. M.V. Magnier, Yesterdayoncemore has earned $69,875 from her 6-1-2-0 record. The dark bay was bred in the Emerald Isle by Llang Bloodstock and sold for 110,000 guineas ($151,963) as a Tattersalls October yearling. Her dam, the unraced Danehill mare Danehill’s Dream, is a full sister to Group 1-placed Summerland and to Last Love, the dam of classic-placed Fields of Athenry. Further back, this is the rich family of 1992 Derby (G1) hero Dr Devious.