08/20/2014 12:38PM

Hovdey: Personal Diary's story gets unlocked in Oaks

Benoit & Associates
Personal Diary's Del Mar Oaks win was her first in a graded stakes.

If you missed a more rewarding appreciation of Del Mar Oaks winner Personal Diary in her two appearances out West this summer, it’s too late. She’s gone, or at least she was getting wrapped up and ready to ship Tuesday morning along with five other horses trained by the wife-and-husband team of Victoria and Phil Oliver.

Personal Diary, runaway winner of last weekend’s Del Mar Oaks, is one of those overnight success stories who had been flying just beneath the radar, working hard in the trenches, just waiting for that moment to shine.

Then it came, at about the eighth pole of the Oaks, when a Grade 1 event that was looking like anybody’s game suddenly became a lopsided showcase. Personal Diary was angled out from behind a fast-moving wall of fillies by Corey Nakatani and left them all high and dry, inspiring Trevor Denman to call her 2 3/4-length victory a “superb performance.”

“You never like to make excuses, but she hasn’t been the luckiest filly,” Phil Oliver said, alluding in particular to a narrow allowance race loss earlier in the meet. “What counts is she got lucky at the right time.”

Personal Diary is a daughter of City Zip, chestnut in color, with a pair of perfect hind stockings and a cascading blaze that doesn’t stop until it tickles her upper lip. There’s a lot to her, especially up close.

“Go on in,” Victoria Oliver insisted as a visitor approached the filly’s stall. “She’s friendly.”

Her trainer should know. The filly is also big, for a 3-year-old, with a lot of scope and sturdy underpinnings that are not, at least in one corner, textbook perfect.

“The first time we entered her at Ellis Park the vet wanted to scratch her, she went so wide,” Victoria said. “He never seen her before, but we knew her from day one and it wasn’t a concern. That’s what you get sometimes with homebreds, right? Anyway, she won.”

At a mile on the turf, no less, almost a year to the day from her Oaks win. There were eight losses in between, but most of them did nothing to discourage the Olivers that they had a good one on their hands.

“A mile and an eighth would seem to be her best distance, and you can’t always get that,” Phil said. “She was always galloping out past the others going shorter. Hard to believe for a City Zip. Must be the Tiznow kicking in.”

Personal Diary is out of Latest Scoop, a daughter of Tiznow whose meager racing record was of no concern next to a pedigree that brings Seeking the Gold, Relaunch, and Nijinsky into close proximity. As for City Zip, he gets the rep of a speed sire because of quality animals like Palace, Reneesgotzip, and Unzip Me. Look no further, however, than the Del Mar turf course in 2011 and 2012 to find City Zip’s daughter City to City winning the best two-turn races for the local division in the Palomar and the John C. Mabee.

City Zip also gives Personal Diary a cross to Relaunch, who won the 1979 Del Mar Derby for Glen Hill Farm and, as a stallion, single-handedly kept the Intentionally-In Reality line alive for years as a vibrant mix with the ever-expanding influence of Northern Dancer. Thus ends this episode of “Roots.”

The Olivers were having a good day last Saturday even before Personal Diary came over for the Oaks. Annulment, a 3-year-old daughter of Broken Vow also trained by Victoria, won a four-horse photo in the first division of the Hatoof Stakes on the Arlington Million undercard.

Both Personal Diary and Annulment do most of their training at the Olivers’ Keeneland barn and make their raids accordingly. Phil Oliver came West last summer to win the Osunitas Stakes at Del Mar with Closing Range, which was a homecoming of sorts. In the early 1990s he could be found working for Ian Jory, getting on horses like Best Pal and Video Ranger, and for Bruce Headley when that stable handled Bertrando.

Oliver left California to go to work for Elliott Walden and met Victoria Humphrey in the bargain. She went from a show-horse background to galloping top Thoroughbreds like Menifee. They’ve been married 15 years. When it comes to whose name gets attached to which horse, the formula works something like this: Victoria trains privately for her father, G. Watts Humphrey Jr., and his partnerships, while Phil’s name appears alongside the runners of Ian Banwell’s St. George Farm, like Last Full Measure, winner of the 2013 Madison at Keeneland. Personal Diary races for both Humphrey and Banwell, her breeders.

“There have been some meets where if you put our wins together we’d have been high up in the standings,” Phil said.

In light of this, it was suggested that perhaps the Oliver brand would benefit from having only one name on the label. Would Phil volunteer?

“No way,” he said. “I like winning too much.”

Victoria, far more eloquent, issued something between a laugh and a cough that spoke volumes. And what does it matter? They both do the work and enjoy the rewards of a filly like Personal Diary. And the trainer’s name is Oliver.