Bo Hirsch’s homebred Ce Ce hitherto has been known as a half-sister to multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire Papa Clem. By overturning 3-5 favorite Hard Not to Love in Saturday’s $400,500 Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita, the Mike McCarthy trainee outstripped her half-brother with a Grade 1 laurel.
Like Hard Not to Love, lightly raced Ce Ce was trying two turns for the first time. But the more patient trip engineered by Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza helped her surge past the tiring favorite.
Hard Not to Love showed speed from the rail, with Der Lu chasing through an opening quarter in :22.63. Ollie’s Candy and Ce Ce crept closer at the half in :45.72 as Der Lu beat a retreat. Ce Ce was traveling with greater verve than Ollie’s Candy, who dropped back by the time Hard Not to Love clocked 6 furlongs in 1:10.36.
Turning for home, Ce Ce was going better than Hard Not to Love as well. The 4-1 chance soon put her away and opened up by 3 1/4 lengths. Ce Ce took :14.08 to negotiate a final furlong, resulting in a time of 1:37.33 for the mile. That was more than a full second slower than undefeated Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful Charlatan, who posted more sustainable splits than the fast early/slow late Beholder Mile.
Hard Not to Love was in turn 3 3/4 lengths clear of Ollie’s Candy. Next came Kaydetre, Zusha, and Der Lu. Mother Mother was scratched.
Ce Ce advanced her scorecard to 5-3-1-0, $366,600. The daughter of Elusive Quality began her career at Santa Anita last April, rolling in her debut and just missing in an allowance. Her connections regarded her highly enough to ship to Belmont Park for the Acorn (G1). Fourth behind the imperious Guarana, Ce Ce was sidelined by injury for the rest of her sophomore campaign. She resumed with a 4 1/4-length allowance tally Feb. 17 at Santa Anita and continued her progress here. Ce Ce was the second Acorn alumna to win a major race on Saturday, after Serengeti Empress in the Azeri (G2).
The Kentucky-bred Ce Ce is a third-generation Grade 1 winner. She is out of Miss Houdini, heroine of the 2002 Del Mar Debutante (G1) and herself the daughter of Belong to Me and multiple Grade 1 star Magical Maiden.
Aside from Papa Clem, Miss Houdini is also responsible for the stakes-placed pair of Stradella Road (a full sister to Ce Ce) and Magical Victory, who is the dam of Grade 3 scorer Hot Springs. Another daughter of Miss Houdini, the unraced Mama Maxine, produced Canadian Grade 3 winner Ready Intaglio.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Winning owner/breeder Bo Hirsch: “She could be the best I’ve ever had. She’s a half-sister to Papa Clem and we’re very proud of her mother Miss Houdini, who is (20) years old today and still going strong. I am just so excited today. We came out here because we had to find a race to run this filly in, and I said let’s take our shot with nothing else for her to get to the next level, and she beat all our expectations. I thought it might be a little tough to win this one today. I am pleasantly surprised.”
Winning rider Victor Espinoza: “I thought there was just one speed horse (Hard Not to Love), but it changed and that helped me. We were able to take back a little and she was so full of run, I wanted to make the leader work a little bit at the three-eighths, so I let my filly go a little. Down the lane, she was in control. She’s come back better than ever. She ran against some of the best fillies in the world in New York (in the Acorn 8) and she ran just like she ran the other day (in her allowance comeback).”
Winning trainer Michael McCarthy: “She was able to keep her face clean. Victor did a great job of getting her tucked in coming to the half-mile pole. (Went) head and head with the good filly (Hard Not to Love), it’s nice to watch her get the job done.
“I’ve always thought she was really good. Last spring, I thought she could beat any kind, unfortunately she got hurt after the Acorn, which made us take a step back and take some time off. She has come back and hasn’t missed a beat. I can’t thank Bo enough for letting us take our time and pick our spots. I kind of wanted to wait for Keeneland, but I’m glad we didn’t after today’s result. All the credit goes to Bo and Candy.”