DEL MAR DEBUTANTE STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 2-YEAR-OLD FILLIES | GRADE 1 | 7 FURLONGS
She's a Tiger, ridden masterfully by Gary Stevens, showed plenty of spunk to overpower her rivals while tallying comfortably in the $300,000 Del Mar Debutante Aug. 31.
The half sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Smiling Tiger shook loose of favored Awesome Baby leaving the turn and was well clear in the stretch. Wearing blinkers for the first time for trainer Jeff Bonde, she came home in measured style for Stevens, defeating the fast-closing Fascinating by half a length.
The Hall of Fame rider moved into a tie with Bill Shoemaker for most Del Mar Debutante victories with five. Stevens, who came out of a seven-year retirement early this year, won the race for the first time since 2002 with Miss Houdini.
"He was the horse of a lifetime," Bonde said of Smiling Tiger, who gave the trainer his first Grade 1 win in the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar. "Hopefully, she can add to that."
Fascinating, whose challenge was delayed as she waited for room to rally from the back of the pack, was second, with Sorrento Stakes winner Concave third. Fascinating, a maiden half sister to Grade 1 winner Bodemeister , figures to improve with distance following her third start.
The final time for the seven furlongs on Polytrack was a solid 1:22.71.
"The blinkers definitely made a difference today," Bonde said.
Owned by Mark Dedomenico, Allen Aldrich, Lisa Hernandez, and Stuart Downey, the winning daughter of Tale of the Cat is out of Shandra Smiles, by Cahill Road. Dr. Rodney Orr bred the bay filly in Kentucky. She sold for $150,000 as a Keeneland September yearling last year.
She's a Tiger, sent off at odds of 9-2, was coming off a runner-up finish in the Sorrento when she was unable to stem Concave in the drive at 6 ½ furlongs.
The 11-10 favorite in the field of eight 2-year-old fillies, Awesome Baby jumped to the lead from her rail post but was quickly shadowed on her outside by She's a Tiger. Relaxed under a good hold by Stevens, she remained focused while keeping the pressure on through swift fractions of :22.39 and :44.81 before drawing even on the outside.
Those two drew well clear of the rest as Sprouts fell back in third, and She's a Tiger began to inch away leaving the turn to take the advantage into the stretch. She's a Tiger kicked away three lengths in front approaching mid-stretch as Fascinating, progressing well after a wide move under Mike Smith, rallied belatedly. Urged on, She's a Tiger held sway to the wire under good handling from Stevens.
"She got a flyer away from there, but she settled pretty well," Stevens said. "But then when we got near the three-quarters pole, she wanted to duck in on me. Seems a lot of horses have been trying to do that at the meet. She was swapping leads on me, but she was running strong.
"You're going to think I'm crazy, but I think she'll be better going two turns, where I could drop her head and let her just get into a high gallop like Winning Colors [the filly with which he won the Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby]. She's got a stride on her a mile long, and I think she'd love to go on."
Fascinating finished 1 ¾ lengths clear of Concave, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, with Secret Compass fourth. Then came Southern Sunshine, Bajan, Awesome Baby, and Sprouts.
"She's only going seven-eighths here; just wait until we go two turns," jockey Mike Smith said of Fascinating. "[She's a Tiger] had more seasoning on her today, but further on down the line I think it'll be a different story."
Fascinating, Secret Compass, and Awesome Baby are all from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who was seeking an eighth win in the Debutante.
She's a Tiger is now 3-for-4 in her young career. She began her career at Pleasanton June 22, posting a nine-length romp in a maiden special weight test.
Bonde moved her into stakes company next ,and She's a Tiger responded with a front-running score in the Landaluce Stakes July 13 at Betfair Hollywood Park. With her latest win, she ran her earnings to $315,650.
"She was dominant over horses up north, but when we came down here she was kind of pricking her ears and looking around," Bonde said. "She got stronger, and when we added [blinkers] she got more focused. She was very professional in the paddock. A lot of Tale of the Cats can get a little hot, but she's got such great mentality and I'm really pleased with her. "
Carrying 122 pounds, She's a Tiger spotted the runner-up six pounds and paid $11, $5.40, and $3.80 as the distant second choice. Fascinating, a $1.3 million Keeneland September yearling for Bruce Lunsford and Hill 'n' Dale Equine Holdings, returned $6.60 and $4.60. The exacta was worth $69.80. Concave paid $3.60.