January 30, 2023

Alms shows merit in Jimmy Durante; former claimer Zuzanna stuns Red Carpet

Alms wins the Jimmy Durante Stakes 2019 at Del Mar
Alms wins the Jimmy Durante Stakes (Benoit Photography)

Ruled out of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) by an illness, Godolphin’s homebred Alms picked up right where she left off with a convincing victory in Saturday’s Jimmy Durante (G3) at Del Mar. The unbeaten Matron (G3) winner successfully stretched out to extend her record to three-for-three for trainer Mike Stidham.

Much of the pre-race buzz centered upon another who missed the Juvenile Fillies Turf – Princesa Caroline, the American Pharoah half-sister to Lady Eli. Trainer Chad Brown pre-entered her in the Breeders’ Cup, but a sharp debut score at Belmont wasn’t enough for the handicapping panel to select her into the field.

Dispatched as the 4-5 favorite here, Princesa Caroline had to drop farther off the pace from post 12. In contrast, the 5-2 Alms worked out a textbook stalking trip from post 3.

Laura’s Light sped to the lead through an opening quarter in :22.74 but got comfortable through ensuing splits of :48.08 and 1:12.72 on the good turf. Alms drafted in her wake until the far turn, when jockey Paco Lopez was able to peel off the fence and pose a challenge. Taking command in the stretch, Alms dashed away by 2 3/4 lengths while polishing off the mile in 1:36.01.

“I had a perfect trip,” Lopez recapped. “Michael (Stidham) told me to get a spot behind the speed and it worked out. She came away from there well and we got a good spot.

“The course was good. I’d heard about all the rain here, but the course was very good. Not soft; just right. When I asked her she gave me a big kick.”

Princesa Caroline lengthened stride nicely but came up a half-length shy of Laura’s Light and had to settle for third. The blueblood might have gotten a bit closer with a more advantageous post, but in any event shaped like one who will appreciate more ground.

Croughavouke, sixth in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, finished fourth. Applecross, like Princesa Caroline unable to get into the Breeders’ Cup, rallied for fifth. Next came Overjoyed, early pace tracker A G Indy, Guitty, Homehome, Wise Rachel, and Seahawk Lisa. Almost a Factor was withdrawn along with the two cross-entered in Sunday’s 10TH race, Awesome Ella and Lookintogeteven.

Alms has now bankrolled $183,750. The City Zip filly started out in six-furlong sprints at Belmont Park. Drawing off by 3 3/4 lengths in her debut on the Widener course, she created another favorable impression in the Matron over the inner turf. Stidham indicated then that she’d step up to two turns, and her pedigree gave a strong signal in that direction.

The well-named Alms is out of Charity Belle, an Empire Maker mare who captured the about 10-furlong Prix de la Nonette (G3) in 2009. Charity Belle has also produced Grade 3-placed stakes scorer Hallie Belle. Alms’ second dam, Sweet Charity by A.P. Indy, is responsible for multiple Peruvian Group 1-placed Spicer Boy. Third dam, Banker’s Lady, is a multiple Grade 1 winner and noted matron herself.

Lopez made it a quick double aboard the unheralded Zuzanna in the $100,702 Red Carpet H. (G3). The former claimer was still eligible for a nonwinners of one “other than” allowance, but the Bob Hess Jr. mare took a leap forward over the 1 3/8-mile trip and paid $48.

Claimed for a mere $8,000 at Los Alamitos in September 2018, Zuzanna won three times for her new connections – Brian Ferguson, racing personality Kurt Hoover, Jeffrey Lambert, Larry Rodriguez, and Robert Toland – earlier this year. Those came in a waiver claiming event (at the same $8,000 level) on the Golden Gate Tapeta followed by a $25,000 claimer and later a starter allowance, the latter two over the Santa Anita turf. Zuzanna had lost her last four, however, and even her third in a Keeneland allowance didn’t portend an upset in this spot.

“I really wasn’t looking at this race,” Hess said. “I had her (booked) on a plane next week to go to Florida for the claiming crown. But Kurt (Hoover) nudged me to go here. My reservation (about running) was that I’ve never trained an $8,000 claimer to win a Grade 3. But on the other hand, we thought a mile and three eighths could work, she loves Del Mar and she really worked well over this turf course. To me, she’s an easy read; when she’s ready, she’s ready and she said, ‘Hey Bob, let’s run.’”

The longest shot on the board at 23-1, Zuzanna relaxed at the rear of the main group as Lostintranzlation dictated fractions of :24.44, :49.17 and 1:14.74. By the time the leader reached a mile in 1:39.70, Zuzanna was beginning to improve her position, and she continued her advance on the final turn.

When Lostintranzlation abruptly gave way into the stretch, the tracking Strike at Dawn struck the front, but Zuzanna was bearing down. The daughter of Wilburn drove to a 1 1/2-length decision in a final time of 2:16.29.

“Bob (Hess) told me I could put her anywhere I wanted to in the race,” Lopez said. “Front, back, inside, outside. He said this mare would run anywhere you wanted. So I rode her with a lot of confidence. I had a bit of trouble on the turn (for home). Horses inside and outside me. But I got clear and she was game.”

Curlin’s Journey, last early, had a checkered stretch run but snared second in a photo with Vibrance who nosed Strike at Dawn for third.

“If I didn’t have a little trouble in the stretch, I’m going to win it,” jockey Ruben Fuentes said of Curlin’s Journey. “She ran great.”

Vibrance was on hold too, according to Hall of Famer John Velazquez.

“I got in tight at the quarter pole and I had to wait, wait, wait. Once I got clear, she came running,” Velazquez reported.

Tiny Tina reported home fifth, and there was a five-length gap back to Keeper ofthe Stars trailed by Lostintranzlation. Siberian Iris was a vet scratch.

Zuzanna’s coup advanced her record to 32-9-2-3, $271,751. Bred by Mike Bilbrey in Kentucky and sold for $15,000 as a Keeneland January yearling, the five-year-old is out of the Bernstein mare Zaphia. Fourth dam Alydariel is a half to 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) hero Royal Academy and the brilliant Terlingua, dam of Storm Cat.