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Bellafina dominates to win Del Mar Debutante

It was expected to be a three-horse race, but in the end it really all about one. Bellafina won the Grade 1 $300,000 Del Mar Debutante on Saturday, placing her square in the sights of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and maybe top honors for 2-year-old fillies.

Her dominating win by 4 ¼ lengths over previously unbeaten Brill and Mother Mother was even more effortless than it sounded. It was then that trainer Simon Callaghan upped the stakes.

“I told [owner] Kaleem [Shah] that she’s the best filly I’ve trained,” Callaghan said. “She’s pretty special.”

Normally a trainer engaging in hyperbole about a horse is nothing new. But with that statement, Callaghan was saying she’s better than Eclipse Award winning Abel Tasman, who has won six Grade 1 stakes.

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That was a reminder of one of the more distressing times for Callaghan as a trainer. He had nurtured Abel Tasman through three wins in five races including a win in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes. But before the Santa Ysabel Stakes, the China Horse Club bought into the filly. Through a mixup, the jockey did not wear the silks of the China Horse Club in the Santa Ysabel and Callaghan was fired. The filly went to Bob Baffert, where she won the Kentucky Oaks and two more Grade 1s last year.

Public sentiment was with Callaghan. Representatives of the China Horse Club, which was part owner of Justify, still have not talked about the incident.

So now, Callaghan has potentially a new superstar filly.

“I hope he’s right,” Shah said of Callaghan’s statement. “He’s been high on her for a very long time and he thinks she’s better than Abel Tasman.”

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What made the performance even more impressive is she never changed leads in the one-turn, seven-furlong race. A horse normally leads with their right side on straightaways and switches to the left on the turns. You could compare it to pulling a suitcase through an airport. At some point, one arm gets tired and you switch to the other arm because it’s fresher.

“It’s definitely not a physical thing,” Callaghan said. “It’s just her. Sometimes with fillies you don’t want to try and change them too much. … I think she’s just going to keep getting better.”

Jockey Flavien Prat even told Shah that the filly could have gone to the lead at any time. She ran with Mother Mother down the backstretch, but with a quarter-mile to go, she just accelerated and breezed home.

“She was more aggressive today,” Prat said. “I think that race the other day [when she broke her maiden] got her in that mode. She was on it.”

In this image provided by Benoit Photo, Bellafina, with Flavien Prat aboard, wins the Grade I, $300,
Bellafina, with Flavien Prat aboard, wins the Grade I, $300,000 Del Mar Debutante horse race.
(Benoit Photo via Associated Press)

Bellafina paid $6.60, $3.20 and $3.20. Mother Mother was second, followed by Boujie Girl, Brill and Watch Me Burn.

Brill was the less-than-even-money favorite but the Jerry Hollendorfer filly just looked flat.

“That wasn’t her today,” jockey Drayden Van Dyke said. “She didn’t run her race. She wasn’t there for me.”

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Bellafina will now be pointed toward the Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 29. And from there, if all goes well, the Breeders’ Cup awaits.

Prat also won the other stakes, the Grade 2 $200,000 John C. Mabee Stakes. He guided Vasilika to a 1½-length win in the 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares. It was her seventh win in eight starts this year, but none of the victories was at this high level of competition.

Vasilika bided her time mid-pack than late in the far turn moved to the outside and was third at the top of the stretch. She passed leaders Fahan Mura and Meal Ticket and held off a late rush from favorite Cambodia. The win for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer no doubt helped erase the memory of Brill’s lackluster performance in the Debutante.

Vasilika paid $10.40, $4.20 and $3.40. Fahan Mura was third.

There are two stakes on Sunday’s card, the next to last of the summer meeting. The Grade 2 $250,000 Del Mar Derby will be for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles on the turf. River Boyne, winner of five of his last six, is the 5-2 favorite. There is also the $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf, which has 2-year-olds going a mile. Most of these horses are lightly raced.

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