09/01/2016 2:00PM

Hovdey: Coming-out parties in Spinaway, Debutante


It will be raining fillies. Good fillies, too. The best on both coasts, the stars of tomorrow, and the bedrock of the breed for years to come.

At least, that is how this corner prefers to enjoy the twin tests at Saratoga and Del Mar on Saturday, when the Spinaway Stakes will be presented for the 125th time (not a typo) and the 66th running of the Del Mar Debutante will follow a few hours later.

Do anything 124 times, and you’re bound to get it right. The Spinaway has survived the ebb and flow of depression, recession, wartime racing, and a ban on the sport entirely. Most of the names have faded into the mists of memory, although any other race would kill for a history that included winners like Miss Woodford, Maskette, Top Flight, Cicada, Ruffian, Before Dawn, Meadow Star, Ashado, and Rachel’s Valentina, the daughter of Rachel Alexandra who provided the 2015 running with an emotional high.

The Del Mar Debutante was conceived in 1951 and came of age with such early winners as Miss Todd, Darling June, and Admirably. Since the 1970s, the Debutante has been won by marquee fillies who went on to make an impact on the national stage, including Windy’s Daughter, Terlingua, Landaluce, Sardula, Sharp Cat, Halfbridled, and last year’s winner, Songbird.

Both the Spinaway and Debutante are at seven furlongs, and the purses are similar. Likewise what’s at stake. The early careers of 2-year-olds are compressed into a few desperately significant starts, and things get very serious in September as the Breeders’ Cup approaches.

Four of the seven fillies in the Debutante were purchased last spring at 2-year-old sales, while two were bred by their owners, including American Cleopatra, American Pharoah’s little sister.

The seven in the Spinaway include fillies bought as yearlings for $825,000 (Pretty City Dancer), $750,000 (Sweet Loretta), and $450,000 (Cherry Lodge). The meter is running.

Dennis Farkas purchased Fun from her breeder, Peter Blum, and so far, the daughter of Harlan’s Holiday, out of an Empire Maker mare, has made good on her name. Fun won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Churchill Downs in June, then finished second to Sweet Loretta in the six-furlong Schuylerville Stakes at Saratoga.

“I don’t think I’m even at the right distance yet,” said Fun’s trainer, Ian Wilkes. “I think seven-eighths is still too short for her. When I get to a mile and a sixteenth, I think I’ll be okay. But this is a nice progression for her.”

On the numbers, the Todd Pletcher-trained Cherry Lodge towers over her Spinaway opposition after a highly rated debut win Aug. 7. Wilkes tries to keep such early 2-year-old evaluations in perspective.

“You have to look at the numbers,” Wilkes said. “But you’ve got to know your trainers, too. Which ones have their horses at their very best for their first run? Are they going to get better after that?”

Fun has done nothing to discourage Wilkes since the Schuylerville.

“She’s always come along steady,” the trainer said. “But since that last race, she’s trained better than I’ve ever seen her train. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I think she’s well named.”

Out West, trainer Pete Eurton is anxious to see what Champagne Room can do in the Debutante against not only American Cleopatra but also the impressive maiden winners Morganite (by Gemologist) and Noted and Quoted (by The Factor).

Champagne Room, a daughter of Broken Vow, finished second in a maiden race early in the Del Mar meet, then jumped right into the Sorrento Stakes three weeks later. Her 1 1/4-length win going 6 1/2 furlongs that day put her in a local class all her own.

“At 2, I don’t really think they have an edge as a stakes winner at this time of year,” Eurton noted. “They’re all very young, and there’ll be a lot of learning going on over the next months. I’m glad I’ve got the stakes win, but I think the 6 1/2 furlongs she’s got under her belt is more important to me than anything.”

Champagne Room has been touting Eurton with fast works and precocious behavior since the Sorrento.

“She’s high as a Georgia pine right now,” Eurton said. “She gets excited like a young kid, but she doesn’t sweat. We’ve taken her to the paddock a lot, to the gate a lot. It’s like she’s really enjoying herself.”

Champagne Room is a big girl, topping 16-1 hands and “very long” to Eurton’s eye. Similar to the pedigree of Fun, Champagne Room’s blood seems to cry out for a mile or more through her grandsires, Unbridled and Bernstein.

“I like to think of her as a 2-year-old version of Beholder,” Eurton said. “Not that’s she’s as good as Beholder. But that is our benchmark.”

The Del Mar Debutante was Eurton’s first major win in 2011 with the Sunriver filly Weemissfrankie. She went on to take the Oak Leaf Stakes (now called the Chandelier) at Santa Anita and finish third to My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Some of the same people who owned Weemissfrankie are in the Champagne Room partnership.

“It’s those three Grade 1 races I have in my sights for her,” Eurton said, “so we’ll take them one at a time, starting on Saturday.”