DEL MAR HANDICAP | PURSE: $200,000 | GRADE 2 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 3/8 MILES
DEL MAR, Calif. -- The race strategy for Celtic New Year in Sunday's $200,000 Del Mar Handicap was to try to lead throughout the turf marathon over 1 3/8 miles on turf.
It could not have gone any differently, and in the end could not have worked out any better for owner Michael Jawl, trainer John Sadler, and jockey Victor Espinoza – with long-term ramifications this fall.
Celtic New Year ($11) closed from third in the final quarter-mile to win the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap by a head over Bourbon Bay, the 3-5 favorite.
"The instructions were to be in front," Sadler said. "Victor rode him differently. I was relieved in a way because horses in front haven't been winning in the long distance races."
The win changes Celtic New Year's season. The Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap was part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, offering a fees-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in November, a race now on Celtic New Year's calendar, Sadler said. "It's worth a lot," Sadler said of the automatic berth.
Espinoza's decisions in the final quarter-mile were vital. Racing behind horses on the turn, Celtic New Year snuck through toward the inside, while Bourbon Bay raced four-wide on the turn under jockey Joe Talamo.
Talamo said the wide trip cost him. "Victor got through," he said. "That proved to be the difference."
Celtic New Year, who carried 114 pounds, was timed in 2:14.92. Bourbon Bay, the 121-pound highweight, finished a head in front of Imponente Purse in the field of six.
Celtic New Year, a 4-year-old gelding by North Light, won his first stakes in the Del Mar Handicap. Earlier this year, he raced in claiming races with values of $50,000 and $62,500 and placed in three turf marathon stakes. Celtic New Year has won 5 of 17 starts and $294,422.