08/15/2013 3:06PM

Jay Hovdey: Top fillies and mares hot on each others’ heels

Benoit & Associates
Wishing Gate hit her stride in June with an allowance win at Arlington Park before her San Clemente victory.

Of course it makes no sense that the Arlington Million and the Sword Dancer Six Hundred Thousand are being run an hour and a half apart on the same day for the same group of horses at racetracks only a short hop from each other by plane. It doesn’t have to. Both Saturday features – one in Chicago, the other in Saratoga Springs – attracted full and deeply competitive fields. The entertainment will last two minutes in one, two and a half in the other. The winners may not improve the breed, but they certainly decorate the landscape.

At the same time, in a parallel racing universe, three stimulating races for fillies and mares will hopscotch across the continent on the same afternoon. The $600,000 Alabama comes first at Saratoga, followed in short order by the $750,000 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park and then, at the end of the day, the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks.

In terms of history, the Alabama’s got the others over a barrel, considering the fact that there was no electricity when it was first run. Unfortunately, this particular renewal has come up light once past the heavily favored Princess of Sylmar. Of the six entrants, she is the only one who also ran in the Kentucky Oaks in May and the Coaching Club American Oaks in July. At least she won them both.

The Beverly D. gives fillies everywhere something to look forward to when they grow up. It started out as a modest, middle-distance grass race in the 1980’s named in honor of the late wife of Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois. In 1989 the Beverly D. was reinvented as a global event with a purse to match. Since then, it has helped to be of Eclipse Award material, as past Beverly D. winners Flawlessly, Hatoof, Possibly Perfect, Golden Apples, and Stacelita can attest.

Of that bunch, Flawlessly and Golden Apples also took the Del Mar Oaks as 3-year-olds. So did champions Turkish Trousers (1971), Heartlight No. One (1983), and Hollywood Wildcat (1993). If there is such a budding star among the full field of 10 that will be running at Del Mar on Saturday, a good performance will be a step in the right direction.

Wishing Gate comes into the 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Oaks off a career-best performance on July 21 in the San Clemente Stakes, over the same course and a furlong less in distance. Tom Proctor, her trainer, looks at this development as both good news and not so good news.

“I’d prefer to have a little longer for her between races,” Proctor said. “She probably takes a little more out of herself than I’d like. But she fits in there I think. And Grade 1 races are supposed to be tough.”

Proctor was talking from Chicago, where he would be saddling Marketing Mix, the likely favorite in the Beverly D., a couple of hours before Wishing Gate comes to the paddock at Del Mar. More specifically, the trainer was ordering Thursday’s lunch at a Portillo’s restaurant, Chicago being ground zero for the national chain that specializes in hot dogs, sausage, and Italian beef.

“Wait a minute,” Proctor said, pausing the interview. “I want you to hear what I order.”

It was a chopped salad.

“I knew you wouldn’t believe me unless you heard it yourself,” Proctor said. “I’ve failed at every diet I’ve ever tried. So instead of being on a diet I am watching what I eat.”

And if he’s a good boy Thursday and Friday, he can celebrate on Saturday, depending on the results.

Both Marketing Mix and Wishing Gate were bred and are owned by the Glen Hill Farm of Leonard Lavin and his grandson, Craig Bernick. Marketing Mix is a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro who is well enough known by now that her every start has become an event. She suffered heartbreak losses in the 2012 runnings of the Beverly D. and the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, missing a championship by barely a length, and has come back this year with two wins at Hollywood Park to set her up for a return to Arlington.

This time last year, Wishing Gate, by the late Indian Charlie, was fresh off a maiden race win over the Del Mar grass. Two starts later, Proctor put her away for the winter and brought her out at Keeneland in April. She hit her stride in June with an allowance win at Arlington Park, then headed west with a division of the Proctor stable to win the San Clemente.

“The Indian Charlies I’ve had have been pretty precocious,” Proctor noted. “I would say that this filly probably takes after her mother, Rich in Spirit, more than Indian Charlie.”

Proctor trained Rich in Spirit to win seven races, including the graded Locust Grove at Churchill Downs, and more than $600,000. She is a daughter of the Glen Hill stallion Repriced, a stakes winner at Del Mar, and hails from the female families that produced such world-class runners as Gorgeous, Swain, Love Smitten, Key to the Moon and Seaside Attraction.

“And don’t forget Dancing on a Cloud,” said Proctor, going back four generations on Wishing Gate, to a Nijinsky II filly foaled in 1983. “She won a little race in Chicago called the Beverly D.

Setting it straight

Your humbled author got it wrong in a recent column interview with Gary Stevens, who rides Marketing Mix in the Beverly D. and Indy Point in the Arlington Million. His victory aboard Marlin in the 1997 running of the Million was not the first time he had ridden the horse (Stevens had been on him twice before over the previous two years), and Marlin did not suffer a career-ending injury in the Million. That happened in his next race, the Oak Tree Turf Championship, in which he finished second to Rainbow Dancer. There is no good excuse for such a goof, especially since it was Stevens who suffered a concussion in the 2003 Arlington Million and not the reporter.