DEL MAR — Death, taxes and Philip D’Amato on the grass. Can’t go wrong betting Del Mar’s leading trainer in any race, but especially when he’s got the even-money favorite in a stakes race.
Conclude, a 3-year-old Collected colt, followed up his gate-to-wire victory in the opening-day Oceanside Stakes with another near front-running win in Sunday’s $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby.
Ridden by Hector Berrios, who had a riding double on the 11-race card, Conclude took the lead shortly out of the gate and held off a closing rally by Maltese Falcon to win by a head. Final time for the 1 1/8 miles over a firm turf course was 1:48.61.
Almendares, the 3-1 second choice, was another length back in third, a half length in front of Panic Alarm in the nine-horse field limited to 3-year-olds.
“A masterful ride by Hector, letting that other horse (Justin’s Legacy) go and then making that move at the three-quarters pole to get him comfortable on the lead,” D’Amato said. “He’s a tough horse. 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.”
The victory was D’Amato’s sixth stakes win this summer and his second in the Del Mar Derby. He’s won 50 stakes races at Del Mar overall.
For Berrios, it was his fifth stakes victory of the meet and his first in the Del Mar Derby. He’s won nine stakes races overall at the track.
“I had a good trip all the way,” Berrios said. “He was relaxed and that’s the best. Then when we turned for home, I said, ‘Vamoose!’ and he really took off from there.”
Justin’s Legacy, a 46-1 longshot, went 23.91 for the opening quarter and then Conclude took over, going 47.40 for the half mile and 1:12.20 for 6 furlongs when he opened a three-length lead. Conclude led by a length and a half at the top of the stretch and held on for his fourth victory in six starts for earnings of $359,600.
The victory lifted D’Amato into a 19-19 tie with Bob Baffert atop the trainer standings.
A pair of Baffert-trained colts, 8-5 favorite Mr. Fisk and 2-1 second choice Tahoe Sunrise, dead-heated for the victory in the $125,000 stakes race restricted to 3-year-olds.
Mr Fisk, ridden by Juan Hernandez, was last up the backstretch in the six-horse field but came charging home to catch Victor Espinoza and Tahoe Sunrise at the wire. They split the top prize, each earning $50,000.
Final time for the 1 mile on the main track was 1:37.33.
“I’ve been in dead-heats before,” Baffert said. “I believe I had one here at Del Mar, Boss Soss and Wheeler Oil (1992 De Anza Stakes). It was back when I was starting out.”