On Saturday at Del Mar, trainers Bob Baffert and Phil D’Amato combined to win a quartet of graded stakes. On Sunday, they continued their winning ways by sweeping a pair of Del Mar stakes for three-year-olds.
The feature event was the $300,000 Del Mar Derby (G2), a 1 1/8-mile grass contest in which D’Amato’s Conclude started as the 11-10 favorite and lived up to expectations with a tenacious victory.
After tracking an opening quarter-mile in :23.91, Conclude made an early move under jockey Hector Berrios to lead by three lengths through half a mile in :47.40. Conclude could have grown leg-weary from his early exertions, and perhaps he did just a touch, but the chestnut colt ultimately refused to yield in the drive and held on to beat stretch-running Maltese Falcon by a head in 1:48.61.
“I had a good trip, all the way,” said Berrios. “He was relaxed and that’s the best. Then when we turned for home, I said ‘Vamoose!’ And he really took off from there.”
Almendares, Panic Alarm, Smart Code, Kid Azteca, Justin’s Legacy, Reiquist, and Ah Jeez completed the order of finish behind Conclude, who races for the partnership of Little Red Feather Racing, Madaket Stables, and breeder Brereton C. Jones.
“A masterful ride by Hector, letting that other horse go and then making that move at the three-quarter pole to get him comfortable on the lead. He’s tough horse,” said D’Amato. “The mile and an eighth is where he wants to be at. Anywhere in that mile to mile and an eighth range, he’s going to be a top-class horse down the road.”
Previously victorious in Del Mar’s Oceanside S. and the Desert Code S. at Santa Anita, Conclude has now won three straight races and four out of six starts overall, good for earnings of $359,600. The son of Collected is the second stakes winner produced by Kentucky Oaks (G1) heroine Believe You Can, following Ellis Park Derby winner Believe in Royalty.
Earlier in the afternoon, the $125,000 Shared Belief S. produced a remarkable dead-heat finish between the Baffert trainees Tahoe Sunrise and Mr Fisk, who pulled eight lengths clear of Smart Mo, Clouseau, Henry Q, and Low Expectations.
Coming off a runner-up finish in a 6 1/2-furlong, $40,000 allowance optional claimer against older horses at Del Mar, Tahoe Sunrise enjoyed facing fellow three-year-olds and stretching out over a dirt mile in the Shared Belief, leading all the way through splits of :22.23, :46.10, and 1:11.65 before hanging on for a share of the victory under jockey Victor Espinoza.
“I knew it was close. I was afraid he beat me,” said Espinoza. “But I’m glad it turned out the way it did. A winner is a winner.”
Mr Fisk employed opposite tactics under Del Mar’s leading jockey Juan Hernandez. Runner-up behind subsequent Grade 1 winner Geaux Rocket Ride in the Affirmed S. during the spring, Mr Fisk launched a last-to-first rally in the Shared Belief, getting up in the final strides to tie his stablemate for top honors. The winning time was 1:37.33.
“I didn’t know if I got there,” said Hernandez. “I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure. But I’ll take it. I’m happy with the dead-heat.”
Tahoe Sunrise is a son of Baffert’s Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, while Mr Fisk is the latest stakes-winning son of Baffert’s champion three-year-old male Arrogate.
“I’ve been in dead-heats before. I believe I had one here at Del Mar, Boss Soss and Wheeler Oil. It was back when I was starting out,” said Baffert, recalling when his two-year-old Wheeler Oil finished in a dead-heat with the Jack Haynes trainee Boss Soss in the 1992 De Anza S. “I told Victor this horse (Tahoe Sunrise) is by American Pharoah, ride him like he’s American Pharoah. And he did. They both ran well and they both showed up.”
Tahoe Sunrise is owned by longtime Baffert clients Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman. Mr Fisk is a Sunny Brook Stables homebred. Tahoe Sunrise hasn’t missed the trifecta in five starts (winning twice) to earn $126,360, while Mr Fisk’s two wins and two seconds from seven starts have bankrolled $125,700.