11/27/2015 3:08PM

Hovdey: Recepta won't feel turf move under her feet in Matriarch


A race like the Matriarch at Del Mar on Sunday serves as a happy reminder that it is okay to trust in one important attraction to carry the day.

Thumbs up to Del Mar management for spreading the main events of its Thanksgiving weekend evenly among the four days. They could have batched the Turf Cup, Native Diver, Hollywood Derby, Seabiscuit, and Matriarch on one muscle-bound program to maximize a single day’s handle, which seems to be the trend. Instead, by presenting a marquee feature each day, respect is shown to those customers who arrive at a destination racetrack expecting to see the best athletes available in a top-class contest.

Except for a 2-year-old stakes race on the grass that used to be named for a horse who never ran in California (hello, Generous!), Sunday’s final program of the autumn meet belongs heart and soul to the Matriarch’s field of 14. The mile on the grass provides a heady brew of sectional talent, with seven locals welcoming seven invaders.

Hard Not to Like (Christophe Clement) and Filimbi (Bill Mott) are in town from New York. One of them beat Tepin by a nose, and the other one lost to Tepin by a half. It really doesn’t matter which is which. It’s the Tepin part of the equation that counts since she will be the champion of the division.

Clement tried to win the Matriarch the last two years with his white beauty, Discreet Marq, but had to settle for a second and a third. Hard Not to Like and Stellar Path, the winner of the Athenia at Belmont Park, give him a pair of gray shots this time around.

Olorda is a French stakes winner of German origin who ran well when fourth in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland. It was her first time out for Chad Brown and Martin Schwartz, the combo responsible for recent champions Zagora and Stacelita. While Olorda has a lot of ground to cover before she fits in that company, she is only 3, and Joel Rosario thought enough of her chances to catch the Matriarch ride.

She’s Not Here won two races for Vicki Oliver at Del Mar last summer, including the Yellow Ribbon, and never should have left. But she did, going back home to Keeneland, where she was part of the First Lady field slapped silly by Tepin.

Crowley’s Law at least had a decent view of Tepin that day when she was second, beaten seven lengths. She came right back with a win in a modest stakes in Canada, then was promptly purchased by Gary Hartunian’s Rockingham Ranch, which means Peter Miller will be cinching the girth on Crowley’s Law for the first time on Sunday.

Among the invaders, that leaves Recepta, a daughter of Speightstown who was last seen in the rubble strewn behind Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. Recepta finished last of 12 that afternoon, mercifully brought home to fight another day by John Velazquez. For the Matriarch, Johnny V. gets back on Hard Not to Like (they have won their last three together), while Jimmy Toner is sending Elvis Trujillo west to ride Recepta. They won the Noble Damsel together in September.

“I couldn’t ask a horse to go into a race any better than she did at Keeneland,” Toner said on Friday from New York. “Naturally, it was a disappointment. It was the first time I ran a horse in the Breeders’ Cup that didn’t get a check. But considering she couldn’t handle the soft turf at all, we were fortunate she came out of it okay.”

Recepta was 43-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, which would lead the skeptic to suggest that it was not the ground but the competition that she could not deal with. Toner explained the difference.

“Here’s a filly who won her last two races getting a mile in 1:33 and 1:34,” he said. “Obviously, she likes to hear her feet rattle a little. But when they don’t like the ground, they get frustrated. They’re trying, but they’re not going anywhere. Johnny said he tried to make a move, but every time she got into some kind of motion, she wasn’t going anywhere. After that, there was no reason to punish her.”

Recepta is the latest member of a bountiful family tree harvested with regularity by Toner for her breeder and owner, John Phillips. Her dam, Honor Bestowed, is a half-sister to Soaring Softly, who was sent out by Toner to win the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Soaring Softly died this year from an irreparable injury sustained in a paddock accident.

“Recepta is nothing like Soaring Softly,” Toner said. “She favors her mother – feminine, nice to be around, very kind. Soaring Softly was a lot of things, but she was not a kind mare. She had a mind of her own.”

Given the Matriarch’s 14 runners and two tight turns, Recepta is going to need to summon some Soaring Softly grit to get the job done.

“It’s a loaded field,” Toner said. “She’s got a good post, and she’s got – what do you call it? – positional speed. She can put herself in midpack or just off of it, then I know she gives a good kick the last part of it. At least she better have because there’s going to be a lot of good kickers in there.”