08/30/2013 2:25PM

Del Mar Derby: Gabriel Charles has found his calling

Tom Keyser
Gabriel Charles came from far back in the Oceanside, flying late for second. He is one of the favorites in the first division of the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby on Sunday.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Gabriel Charles has always been a colt with more promise than big-race results.

A stakes winner last year at 2, Gabriel Charles was a fast-closing second in a division of the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar on July 17, his first start of 2013. The result left trainer Jeff Mullins looking forward to Sunday’s Grade 2 Del Mar Derby over 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Mullins has plenty of company.

The 3-year-old turf male division is so deep in California this summer that Del Mar officials split the Del Mar Derby into two $250,000 divisions, drawing 12 runners in each race. The races will have safety limits of 10 runners. There are seven stakes winners in the first division, the sixth race, and six stakes winners in the second division, the ninth race on an 11-race program.

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Gabriel Charles, part of the first division, seemed like a different horse when he finished a head behind Rising Legend in a division of the one-mile Oceanside. He often raced as a stalker in 2012, but was last of nine in the Oceanside with a quarter-mile remaining under jockey Mike Smith. The way the colt responded to Smith’s urging through the stretch has left Mullins wondering if that could develop into Gabriel Charles’s best style of racing – and lead to a first graded stakes win.

“Mike added a new dimension to the horse,” Mullins said. “I don’t know if he did it by design, but it worked out pretty good. Taking the blinkers off might have helped.

“If he runs like he did last time, he should be fine.”

Gabriel Charles has familiar rivals in Sunday’s first division. Rising Legend is part of that field along with Procurement, who won the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita in April; Gervinho, who won the other division of the Oceanside; Chief Havoc, who won the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 4; and Pure Loyalty, a close third in the Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap here Aug. 10.

Chief Havoc and Redwood Kitten, a stakes winner at Pimlico in May who was fifth in the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs on July 13, should ensure an honest pace.

Rising Legend made his first start of 2013 in the Oceanside Stakes, winning with a five-wide rally. The victory led trainer John Sadler to skip the La Jolla Handicap in favor of the Del Mar Derby.

“He ran so big off the layoff,” Sadler said. “The idea of running him three times at this meeting is tough. It’s only his third start in this country.”

Sadler said he does not know how he will campaign Rising Legend this fall, hoping to see clues Sunday as to how the colt handles a longer distance.

“I think he’ll run all day,” he said.

Dice Flavor, winner of the La Jolla in an 8-1 upset, is part of the second division, which includes Infinite Magic, winner of the Grade 3 American Derby at Arlington Park on July 13; Den’s Legacy, the runner-up in the La Jolla; General Election, who won the Grade 3 Arlington Classic at Arlington in May; and the Mullins-trained Dry Summer, who was fourth in the La Jolla.

General Election finished seventh in the Grade 3 American Derby and was vanned off following that race. Trained by Kellyn Gorder, General Election had three workouts in August at Keeneland.

Dice Flavor, a closer, won his first stakes on turf in the La Jolla, which was run over 1 1/16 miles.

“He seems to have worked well since his last race,” trainer Paddy Gallagher said. “He’s got as good of a chance as any.”

Dry Summer was beaten 1 3/4 lengths in the La Jolla, his first start since an eighth in the Sunland Park Derby in New Mexico in March and first race as a gelding.

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“To run long after that long of a layoff, I thought he ran well,” Mullins said.

An interesting prospect in the second division is Kid Dreams, who makes his graded stakes debut. Trained by Neil Drysdale, Kid Dreams won his first race on turf in an optional claimer over a mile on Aug. 18, closing from seventh to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.