Jockey Flavien Prat won both stakes on the Sunday card at Del Mar, guiding favorites with tactical speed on dirt and turf. The odds-on Tizamagician prevailed in the $100,500 Cougar II S. (G3) on the main track, while the 1.30-1 Neptune’s Storm wired the $85,500 Wickerr S. over a grassy mile.
Prat racked up a total of four wins on the day, topping the jockeys’ standings by the end of opening weekend. The Frenchman wasn’t even here on Saturday, spending an eventful day at Monmouth where he was disqualified aboard Hot Rod Charlie in the Haskell S. (G1).
Cougar II S. (G3)
Tizamagician had a bit more of a fight on his hands than his 3-10 odds implied, but the Tiznow colt channeled the competitive spirit of his sire to win well. Well placed early in the 1 1/2-mile test, the Richard Mandella pupil shadowed Heywoods Beach through fractions of :25.88, :50.04, 1:14.79, and 1:40.67.
Tizamagician picked up the baton on the final turn, when Cupid’s Claws advanced to challenge, and the two pulled away to battle it out in the stretch. The older Cupid’s Claws had drubbed Tizamagician in their prior meeting, in last September’s Tokyo City Cup (G3). But Tizamagician was only a sophomore then, attempting this trip for the first time, and experiencing pressure on the front end.
In the rematch, Cupid’s Claws was encountering a more mature rival, with experience at the distance, and a better passage through the race. The four-year-old model of Tizamagician conjured up extra to declaw his opponent en route to a 2 1/4-length decision. Just warming up passing the wire in 2:31.45, the dark bay galloped out with such exuberance that Prat had a job pulling him up.
Cupid’s Claws was easily best of the rest by 5 1/4 lengths. Heywoods Beach bravely held third by a nose from Campaign, the 2019 Cougar II winner who was a long-way last for much of the race. Red King was another neck back in fourth, in his prep for a title defense in the Aug. 21 Del Mar H. (G2) on his preferred turf. Contagion pulled up on the backstretch with an injury. Vanned off the track, he was reportedly “resting comfortably” at his barn according to Del Mar via Twitter.
MyRacehorse and Spendthrift Farm’s Tizamagician, who sports a mark of 18-5-7-0, $427,851, has found his niche in the dirt marathon ranks. Fourth in last year’s Robert B. Lewis S. (G3) in his stakes debut, he was runner-up to Express Train in the Jan. 30 San Pasqual S. (G2) and fifth in the March 6 Santa Anita H. (G1) before returning to 1 1/2 miles. He scored his first graded victory in the latest renewal of the Tokyo City Cup, contested this term on April 18, and went off as the favorite in the June 5 Brooklyn S. (G2). A bad start at Belmont Park, combined with a freakish performance by Lone Rock, left Tizamagician as a distant second that day, but he made no mistake here.
“He broke well today,” Prat told Del Mar publicity. “The thing with him is to get him to relax. He did that pretty well. At the three-eighths (pole) I began to ride him and he responded. It’s always good to win a race for Mr. Mandella. That’s special. He was the man that brought me over here (from France) and it’s good when I can win one for him.”
The Aug. 21 Pacific Classic (G1) could come into the equation, but Mandella definitely has designs on the marathon on Breeders’ Cup Friday, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2), at this track Nov. 5.
“He likes to run all day,” the Hall of Famer said. “I think Flavien even had trouble pulling him up after all that. He’s figuring things out and he really likes the long distance. He’s improving my training. We’ll size it (his next race) up. There may be one down here, and there’s a really nice marathon during the Breeders’ Cup. That’s what we’re really looking for.”
Bred by Woodford Thoroughbreds in Kentucky, Tizamagician sold for $150,000 as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling. His dam, the Grade 2-placed Magic Union by Dixie Union, comes from the family of 2016 Queen’s Plate winner Sir Dudley Digges.
Beaten a half-length in the June 20 American S. (G3) in his first start for Peter Miller, Neptune’s Storm proved sharper second off the layoff in the Wickerr S. Now that the drop to restricted stakes helped him return to the win column, the classy veteran will go back up in grade next for the Aug. 21 Del Mar Mile (G2).
Neptune’s Storm went straight to the lead and got away with steady splits of :23.33, :48.19, and 1:13.14 on the firm course. Bob and Jackie, the defending Wickerr champion, attended the pace but could not quicken when the pace lifted. Nor could the rest of the field lay a glove on Neptune’s Storm, who spurted 1 3/4 lengths clear in 1:35.56.
A proverbial blanket finish unfolded behind him. Majestic Eagle headed Tiz Plus for second, with Border Town and Bob and Jackie necks apart. Homer Screen, Next Shares, and Count of Amazonia weren’t beaten far among the pack.
Owned by CYBT, Saul Gevertz, Lynn Gitomer, Mike Goetz, Michael Nentwig, and Daniel Weiner, Neptune’s Storm has earned $918,485 from a 21-7-4-6 line. The son of Stormy Atlantic was trained for most of his career by Richard Baltas, capturing the 2019 Hill Prince S. (G2), Cinema S., and Singletary S. as well as last year’s San Francisco Mile (G3). His eight stakes placings include the Hollywood Derby (G1), Del Mar Derby (G2), Twilight Derby (G2), Mathis Brothers Mile (G2), and last summer’s Eddie Read S. (G2). He concluded his 2020 campaign with a fourth in the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs.