08/17/2012 1:45PM

Del Mar: Rancho Bernardo could be Winding Way's springboard to Breeders' Cup

Benoit & Associates
A win in the Rancho Bernardo could propel 3-year-old filly Winding Way to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

DEL MAR, Calif. – So far, winning has come easily for Winding Way, the unbeaten 3-year-old filly who makes her stakes debut in Sunday’s $150,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar.

She won her debut by 4 3/4 lengths in a maiden race over six furlongs at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 10 and followed with a victory in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs by 7 1/4 lengths here on July 21.

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“I expected her to win both starts, but I couldn’t say like that ,” trainer Carla Gaines said. “She was an exciting filly from Day One.”

How much Winding Way can accomplish this year may be determined by the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo, the top sprint for fillies and mares at this summer meeting. A win could put Winding Way on course for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

The jump in class to graded stakes has the naturally cautious Gaines concerned. Owned by breeder B. Wayne Hughes, Winding Way has not been challenged in either race, a trend expected to end against six rivals in the Rancho Bernardo over 6 1/2 furlongs.

“Mr. Hughes is willing to give her the test,” Gaines said. “She likes this track and she worked well on it.

“She’s just so lightly raced. It will be a quantum leap from what she’s run against and a move forward.”

Gaines is certain that Winding Way does not need the lead, and can stalk the pace under jockey Rafael Bejarano, if necessary. She did not set overly quick fractions, by California standards, in her first two starts – 22.54 and 23.32 seconds.

Moonstruck Maya, who has won three consecutive races, is likely to set the pace, challenged early by Home Sweet Aspen, the winner of the Grade 1 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita in January. The Rancho Bernardo will be Home Sweet Aspen’s first start since a last-place finish in a field of eight in the Grade 1 Vinery Madison Stakes at Keeneland in April.

“After the Santa Monica, she was a little off form,” trainer John Sadler said. “She ran so hard that day she didn’t run well in her next few starts.”

Sadler expects Home Sweet Aspen to be “close to the lead “if not in front.”

Her chances for the BC Filly and Mare Sprint are contingent on Sunday’s race. “She needs to run well,” Sadler said.

The same goes for Rumor, the winner of Kalookan Queen Handicap at Santa Anita on Jan. 1. She was later sixth in the Santa Monica, and second in the Time to Leave Stakes over five furlongs at Hollywood Park on May 1.

Trainer Richard Mandella said that Rumor had a layoff after the Time to Leave Stakes “to get the gas in the tank. She’s not a really good doer,” he said.

“This is kind of a test here. She’s definitely ready, as ready as she’ll get.”