08/07/2012 1:10PM

Del Mar: Callaghan hoping Imperialistic Diva can fill big shoes in Mabee

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Imperialistic Diva may have what it takes to assume the leading role in trainer Simon Callaghan's stable.

DEL MAR, Calif. – August is not shaping up as the month that trainer Simon Callaghan had envisioned earlier this summer.

He hoped to travel to Arlington Park in a couple of weeks to start Belle Royale in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes, intending to prove that she was not only the best turf filly in his stable, but the nation.

That won’t happen. Belle Royale, a Grade 1 winner in May, was retired with an injury last month. She was his hope for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

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“It was frustrating because she was such a nice filly,” Callaghan said.

“We were so close to the Breeders’ Cup. You can’t dwell on it.”

That has left Callaghan with a new focus – seeking a replacement that can take a leading role in his stable, and perhaps start in the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 2-3.

The list of candidates includes Imperialistic Diva, who starts in Sunday’s $250,000 John Mabee Stakes at Del Mar, and Qaraaba, a promising import from England who will make her U.S. debut in coming weeks.

This is new territory for Callaghan, 29. For the last 18 months, he has had a clear leading horse in his barn, first with the multiple stakes winner Dubawi Heights, who was retired last fall, and more recently with Belle Royale.

The winner of the Grade 1 Gamely Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park in May, Belle Royale was considered a prospect for the division’s leading races until a tendon injury surfaced. She has been sent to Kentucky to be bred next year.

Aside from Imperialistic Diva and Qaraaba, the candidates for next big horse in the stable include Byrama, the winner of the Manhattan Beach Stakes in May who runs in the $85,000 Sandy Blue Handicap on Aug. 17, and the 4-year-old male Slim Shadey, who could start in the $200,000 Del Mar Mile on Aug. 26. Slim Shadey won the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year, and was second in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May.

Callaghan is optimistic about the 2-year-old Hume, a War Front colt purchased for $250,000 at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training. He is expected to make his debut at the Del Mar meet.

“We’ve got a few 2-year-olds to run here,” Callaghan said.

Callaghan’s first concern is Imperialistic Diva’s start in the Grade 2 Mabee, which is run over 1 1/8 miles on turf and lacks a strong favorite. It’s a good spot for Imperialistic Diva, even though she has never won a stakes. She will be ridden for the first time by jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who is expected to get her out of the gate and near the front.

A 4-year-old Irish-bred mare owned by Chuck Winner, Imperialistic Diva was fourth, beaten a length, in the Grade 3 Beverly Hills Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on June 24, and seventh of eight in the restricted Osunitas Stakes over 1 1/16 miles on turf here on July 21.

Imperialistic Diva had a troubled trip in the Beverly Hills, and ran a distance too short in the Osunitas, Callaghan said.

“I think the extra distance will work,” he said of the Mabee. “It will be a competitive race, but there is no standout.”

Last weekend, he gave a candid assessment of her current ability, saying, “She’s not a great filly but she’s a nice filly.”

The same could have been said of Belle Royale earlier this year. It would have been hard to envision that Belle Royale would develop into a Grade 1 winner when she arrived last winter. She had won her last three starts in England last year, but they were in minor races. She improved greatly when she came to this country, winning the American Beauty at Santa Anita in her U.S. debut, and then rallying to win the Gamely.

Qarabaa is another European import that Callaghan expects to improve in the U.S. Owned by Michael Tabor, she was fourth in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot in June, and fifth as the favorite in a listed stakes over 1 1/4 miles on heavy turf at Newbury, England, last month. Callaghan considers her a prospect for the $250,000 Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita on Sept. 29, a race formerly known as the Yellow Ribbon Stakes.

“She could run in something like that,” he said. “She’s a comparable filly to Belle Royale.”

That would be a welcome addition to the stable.