08/13/2014 3:00PM

Hovdey: Moulin de Mougin hitting her stride

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Benoit & Associates
Moulin de Mougin won her first stakes in the John C. Mabee last Sunday.

“Of course I can pronounce it,” said Richard Mandella, insulted by any suggestion otherwise. “ ‘MOO-lawn day MOO-jawn.’ At least that’s how the French guy said it.”

We’ll give Mandella a point for the effort and figure it doesn’t matter what he calls the 4-year-old daughter of Curlin around the barn as long as she gets fed, watered, and Hall of Fame-trained enough to keep winning races like the $250,000 John C. Mabee Stakes last Sunday at Del Mar.

Moulin de Mougin, the Thoroughbred in question, was named by her owners and breeders, Robert Naify and Jan Vandebos, for a destination restaurant/boutique hotel in the south of France. Le Moulin de Mougins gets four Michelin stars, and now its namesake is a Grade 2 race winner on the rise in a West Coast female turf division hungry for a leader.

Moulin de Mougin was making her 13th career start for Mandella while winning her first stakes event. This would speak highly of her trainer’s patience, if he didn’t disagree.

“I was kind of stuck on that 6 1/2-furlong Cambiocorsa deal,” Mandella said. “Took me a while to get out of that. I forgot she was by Curlin.”

Cambiocorsa, the dam of the Mabee winner, is a full sister to the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner California Flag. They are both by Avenue of Flags, a son of Seattle Slew bred and raced by John C. Mabee. Cambiocorsa and California Flag are both gray, and Curlin is a vibrant chestnut, so, of course, Moulin de Mougin is a classic bay.

Her dam dominated the hillside course at Santa Anita like few mares in history, with eight wins, five of them stakes. Moulin de Mougin won a maiden race over the course in her second start, so Mandella is forgiven in thinking the daughter was off to the races. Then she lost her next four down the hill, bringing 2013 to a disappointing end.

“I finally figured it out,” Mandella said. “We stretched her out this year, and she’s been improving all the time. I wasn’t surprised she won the other day. I figured she’d be right there in the mix.”

Had she evolved sooner, Moulin de Mougin might have been heading instead for the Beverly D. Stakes on Saturday at Arlington Park for another half-million in prize money. In her most recent race, the Royal Heroine at Santa Anita, she was a good third but not quite good enough, making the Mabee the logical step in a progression that Mandella hopes could lead to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf this fall.

In the Royal Heroine, Moulin de Mougin finished half a length in front of Wishing Gate, the winner of the 2013 San Clemente at Del Mar and a close second in the Del Mar Oaks. At the end of the Mabee, that was the same Wishing Gate half a length behind Moulin de Mougin in second after setting all the pace under apprentice Drayden Van Dyke, who had a tough time getting his filly to drop her head and settle.

“The jock rode her good,” said Tom Proctor, Wishing Gate’s trainer. “The way she wants to toss her head, I told him if his ass didn’t bounce off the saddle at least once, he’d be the first.”

You hate to lose the close ones, but at least it means you’re doing something right. On Saturday, Wishing Gate’s stablemate Enterprising left nothing to doubt in the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, winning like a colt who will be the one to beat going forward in any West Coast grass event for 3-year-olds.

A few days after the La Jolla, Enterprising was enjoying a morning snooze in his stall, his eyes half-lidded and right hind toe pointed in a posture of utter calm. A shoulder muscle twitched away a fly.

A dark bay with two short hind stockings and a whiff of white between the eyes, Enterprising is a long colt with plenty of legroom who showed a lot more speed in his first seven races. In the La Jolla, he came from last of six under Mike Smith, just as he’d done against 10 opponents in the restricted Oceanside Stakes on opening day.

“After the race, I kept getting asked, ‘Was that the plan? Who decided to take him back?’ ” said Craig Bernick, who runs the Glen Hill Farm operation with his grandfather, Leonard Lavin. “Who knows? I should have just made something up to make us look smart.”

Again, in a different world, Enterprising might have landed in the far richer Secretariat Stakes on Saturday rather than the La Jolla. Instead, it will be stablemate Global View carrying the Glen Hill colors in Chicago.

“Enterprising was sick as a foal and sick again as a 2-year-old,” Bernick noted. “But the best thing he had going for him was Chelios. They were raised together, and Chelios stood out as an exceptional individual.”

“And I liked Global View,” Proctor chimed in.

“Right,” Bernick said. “So, while everyone was looking in a different direction, Enterprising took his time to come around. But the way he won the other day – he could be a good horse.”