Updated on 09/15/2011 1:45PM

Gourmet Girl has rivals at her mercy

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Benoit & Associates
Clement Hirsch favorite Gourmet Girl

DEL MAR, Calif. - Gourmet Girl's three rivals Sunday at Del Mar may as well lower expectations and aim for the next best thing to a win: survival.

While the Grade 2 Clement L. Hirsch Handicap offers ideal conditions for Gourmet Girl, the nation's top-ranked mare, her rivals face a tall order trying to upset her at 1 1/16 miles on dirt. Tranquility Lake has not tried dirt in 2 1/2 years; Nany's Sweep has not gone two turns in a year and a half; and Saudi Poetry has not won anything of consequence outside Kentucky. Going in, they look like sitting ducks for Gourmet Girl, age 6.

"She gets better with age," trainer Pico Perdomo said, adding "she's holding her weight like she never did before, she's eating better, she's feeling better. Is she the best mare in the country? I feel that way. I don't see anything back East."

Grade 1 wins this year in the Vanity and Apple Blossom handicaps have propelled Gourmet Girl to the top of her division, giving Perdomo and owner Gary Tanaka reason plot a campaign ending with the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. While a $240,000 supplemental fee is necessary to make Gourmet Girl eligible for the Distaff, Tanaka, a London financier, has given Perdomo the preliminary green light.

"He said if we're in position to do it, don't worry about the money," Perdomo said. "I'm feeling very good about everything."

Those good vibes may evaporate if Tranquility Lake gets loose on the lead Sunday. She has not raced on dirt since early 1999, but trainer Julio Canani and owners Marty and Pam Wygod are hopeful she will show enough to also be considered for the Distaff.

"If we want to go to the Breeders' Cup, she has to run well here," Canani said. "She trains super on dirt, she's healthy, and she's doing good. If she doesn't run well, we'll just go to the Yellow Ribbon [on grass, Sept. 29 at Santa Anita]."

Gourmet Girl has won nine races and $1.1 million from 32 starts; Tranquility Lake, also 6, has won nine of 23 and $1.2 million. Notwithstanding recent unfamiliarity with dirt, Tranquility Lake has a key tactical advantage Sunday. She could be loose on the lead over a racetrack that has produced increasingly faster times the past week.

Saudi Poetry is 2 for 2 at Del Mar vs. suspect foes; Nany's Sweep has been working like a beast and stretches back out for trainer Kathy Walsh.