TWILIGHT DERBY | PURSE: $152,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8 MILES (TURF)
Stronach Stables' homebred Rookie Sensation was making his stakes debut in Santa Anita's Grade 2, $152,000 Twilight Derby on the Breeders' Cup Friday undercard and snuck through between dueling pacesetters Dry Summer and Avare to take the win over a closing Gabriel Charles.
Jockey Victor Espinoza settled Rookie Sensation into a ground-saving trip along the rail while in midpack behind a bunched up group of front runners and stalkers. Dry Summer was leading the way through splits of :23 ⅘, :47 ⅗, 1:11 ⅕ and 1:34 ⅘ while pressed by Avare to his outside. Gervinho was keeping in close contact on the outside, and those three headed into the lane still battling for the advantage.
Meanwhile, Espinoza kept Rookie Sensation to his inside spot before sending him to split the longtime leaders in midstretch. Gabriel Charles, who had been running next-to-last of the 13-horse field on the backstretch, was closing strongly down the center of the track but could not get to Rookie Sensation as he crossed under the wire one length in front in a final time of 1:46 3/5 for nine furlongs over the firm turf.
"I just wanted to let my horse do his thing in the beginning, and from the last three-eighths of a mile, I tried to make my way in between horses," Espinoza explained.
"Sometimes there are different strategies in a race, but I did not have any other options because of the way the race set up. I sneaked in on the inside and everything worked out very nice today. Once I got my position I knew I would definitely win the race.
"He's been a nice horse in his last few races. He always runs unbelievable races, but now he's even more ready than before. Each race he is getting better and better."
Rookie Sensation was sent off the 8-1 fifth choice and returned $18.20 for the win. Gabriel Charles, the 5-2 favorite, had a half-length to spare on Gervinho, who lost the war but won the battle when taking third by a head over Dry Summer. Procurement was next with Charming Kitten, Irish Surf, Dice Flavor, Avare, Kid Dreams, Den's Legacy, Outside Nashville and Rising Legend completing the order of finish.
Rookie Sensation didn't do so well in his career debut on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track in early May, getting off a bit slow and finishing ninth in that 10-horse field while sprinting six furlongs. Trainer John Shirreffs stretched him out to 1 1/16 miles next out and the gray colt rebounded with a one-length score. Following a neck second in a Del Mar turf optional claimer in July, the three-year-old posted another one-length victory, this time against winners, on August 31 in his prelude to Friday's Twilight Derby.
Rookie Sensation improved his record to 5-3-1-0 by taking his stakes bow and doubled his career earnings to $183,050.
"We liked this horse quite a bit and wanted to bring him along slowly, so we tried to space his races appropriately," Shirreffs said without mentioning what's next for his charge. The logical spot would be the Grade 1, $250,000 Hollywood Derby on December 1 going 10 grassy furlongs.
Bred in Kentucky by Adena Springs, Rookie Sensation is out of the stakes-winning and course record-setting Stately Don mare My Marchesa, who is a half-sister to Canadian Grade 2 star Black Cash. Rookie Sensation is himself a half-brother to dual Canadian Grade 3 victor Mark One, Japanese Grade 2 hero Daiwa Carson, Grade 2-placed Golden Coronoa and the dam of Grade 3 scorer Pleasant Prince.
Rookie Sensation's third dam is blue hen mare Missy Baba, whose descendants include champions and Grade/Group 1 winners Wolfhound, Duke of Marmalade, Ruler of the World and Lemon Drop Kid.
Her offspring also includes back-to-back Broodmares of the Year in Weekend Surprise, who would produce Horse of the Year and leading sire A.P. Indy as well as classic-winning top stallion Summer Squall, and Toll Booth, dam of champion sprinter Plugged Nickle and granddam of Horse of the Year Havre de Grace.