DEL MAR — Most eyes were on Shedaresthedevil on Saturday at Del Mar to see if the 5-year-old mare could become the first horse to win the $400,000 Grade I Clement Hirsch Stakes in back-to-back years since Stellar Wind in 2016-17.
The multi-Grade I winner, sent postward as the 4-5 favorite, failed in her bid to join Stellar Wind, Zenyatta, Azeri and Behia Key as the only four distaffers to win the race in consecutive years. Zenyatta won the prestigous race for fillies and mares in three consecutive years from 2008-10.
Shedaresthedevil won the race last year by 3 1/4 lengths, but she was no match for the Argentine-bred Blue Stripe this time. She was ridden beautifully by Hector Berrios, who has taken the Southern California colony by storm since relocating from the Florida circuit in time for the Del Mar meet.
Berrios, a 24-year-old native of Chile who was his country’s leading rider last year, has won five races with only 16 mounts through the first 10 days of the meet, including the Wickerr Stakes and Saturday’s Clement Hirsch.
If Berrios keeps riding the way he has been, his riding opportunities figure to only grow. The Clement Hirsch was his first Grade I victory in the U.S. He said he liked his chances turning for home.
“It was beautiful. I knew I had a lot of horse right before we went into the stretch,” Berrios said through winning trainer Marcelo Polanco, who acted as the jockey’s interpreter. “When I showed her the whip, she just took off.”
Blue Stripe, a 5-year-old daughter of Equal Stripes, showed good form at the recent Santa Anita meet, winning the Grade II Santa Margarita Stakes on April 30 and then running a strong second behind Private Mission in the Grade II Santa Maria on June 18.
The question was whether she could transfer that form to Del Mar, where she had finished seventh, beaten 16 3/4 lengths, in her only other start at the seaside oval during last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
“We talked about where she’s going to be because they scratched two horses (Lisette and Samurai Charm) and we had to change a little bit,” Polanco said. “We had her a little closer than we had before. Lucky everything worked.”
Blue Stripe, the 5-1 third choice, sat third much of the way behind the two favorites, Shedaresthedevil and Private Mission, before making a bold move into the stretch and winning convincingly while running the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.97.
Polanco was ecstatic in the winner’s circle.
“I don’t even know where I am right now,” he said. “Don’t ask me my name, I don’t even know.”
Shedaresthedevil, who went into the race off a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on July 2, finished third, a head behind runner-up Desert Dawn (6-1). The latter finished third in the Kentucky Oaks on May 6 behind Secret Oath and Nest.
But the spotlight was on Blue Stripe, whose victory was her sixth in 10 starts and hiked her career earnings to $461,882 with the $240,000 winner’s check.
The Clement Hirsch was a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In race, meaning Blue Stripe’s connections earned an all-expenses paid trip to the Distaff on Nov. 5 at Keeneland. Since she’s already won at the Distaff’s 1 1/8-mile distance, the extra sixteenth of a mile should prove no problem.
“I think she wants to run farther,” Berrios said.
Polanco had only one destination on his mind, and it wasn’t Disneyland.
“You know where we’re going … Keeneland,” he said.