Close finishes were the flavor of the afternoon at Del Mar, with margins of a neck or less determining the outcome of two graded stakes races on the Saturday card.
The first tight battle came in the $151,000 Best Pal Stakes (G2) for 2-year-olds sprinting 6 furlongs on the main track. Maiden winner Weston was always prominent under jockey Drayden Van Dyke, pressing favored Roderick and longshot Girther through fractions of :22.78 and :46.44 before rallying tenaciously to edge Girther by a neck in 1:12.72.
“He broke sharp, just like we wanted him to, but then it looked like he just sat there for a minute,” said winning trainer Ryan Hanson, who co-owns Weston with Chris Drakos. “I got a little nervous when he got shuffled back, but then he got back up there and fought on. The time was not very impressive, but that doesn’t matter.”
Ambivalent crossed the wire third, but was disqualified to fourth place for bumping with Sonic Brees at the top of the stretch. Schnell, Herd Immunity, and Roderick completed the order of finish, while Girther was vanned off following the race.
Bred in Kentucky by EVADI Farm Team, Weston is from the first crop of 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Hit It a Bomb out of the Dixie Union mare Elke. Sold for just $7,000 as a yearling, Weston previously won a maiden race at Santa Anita and is now 2-for-2 with earnings of $120,000, representing an impressive return on investment.
The finish of the Best Pal was exciting, but the conclusion of the $151,000 Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2) was downright heart-pounding. Tonahutu appeared to have the 1 1/16-mile turf test measured after tracking slow fractions (:24.52, :49.97, 1:14.58) and rallying to the front in the homestretch, but then the British-bred Bodhicitta came flying at the finish to snatch first place in the shadow of the wire.
Initially reserved in midpack while saving ground under hot jockey Flavien Prat, Bodhicitta was compromised by the modest early pace and appeared to have too much left to do in the homestretch. But the Richard Baltas-trained filly rewrote the script in the final sixteenth, unleashing a wicked burst of acceleration to prevail by a well-measured nose in 1:42.83.
“I had a good post (2) today, so I was able to get right on the fence and save ground,” said Prat, who was winning his eighth stakes race of the Del Mar meet. “I knew they were going slow, but my filly has a good turn of foot and we got it done.”
The pacesetting Harmless held on to finish third at 31-1, followed by Lady Prancealot, defending champion Beau Recall, Summering, and Keeper Ofthe Stars. Expected favorite Jolie Olimpica was a scratch.
“The race went about like I thought it would,” Baltas said. “I didn’t see much speed in the race. She has more tactical speed than some of the horses, like Beau Recall and others who come from the back. He (Prat) saved a lot of ground and we needed all of it.”
Previously runner-up in the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita, Bodhicitta could run once more at Del Mar before the summer meet concludes. Baltas mentioned the Sept. 5 John C. Mabee (G2) as a possible target for the daughter of Showcasing, who races in the colors of Calvin Nguyen.