09/01/2011 4:17PM

No reason not to run in Del Mar Debutante


The Del Mar Debutante lost its sponsorship hook for this year’s running, which is normally something this corner would quickly overlook in a shifting world of corporate fortunes. I still get laugh out of stuff named Enron.

The Debutante, however, had Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley brand along for the ride the past two seasons – specifically the Darley America breeding operation in Kentucky – which gave the race a certain patina of respectability not necessarily transmitted by, say, a purveyor of fast foods, or electronic devices. Yes, Virginia, there was once an Eveready Epsom Derby.

So you wonder, what went wrong? Somebody spill a Del Margarita on a member of Dubai’s royal family? The man to ask was Josh Rubenstein, Del Mar’s senior vice president of development.

“They cut back significantly,” Rubenstein said. “The only sponsorship they kept in place was their relationship with Saratoga. Our deal was for two years, 2009 and 2010, and while they really enjoyed the relationship and loved the exposure, like all farms they’re having to cut back on costs.”

It could be argued that Darley didn’t get a lot of downstream bang from the last two winners of the Debutante, although that had nothing to do with the sponsorship decision. Mi Sueno, the record $1.7 weanling who won the race in 2009, fractured a leg soon after that while training and was retired. Tell a Kelly won last year’s Debutante, but has lost her four starts since.

This follows a pattern probably typical of many major 2-year-old stakes. Blink and you might miss the winners, because only the rare gems go on to careers of any significance.

Looking back 10 years at Debutante winners, only Habibti, Halfbridled, Sweet Catomine, and Stardom Bound managed to win a race after their day in the Del Mar sun. Halfbridled, Sweet Catomine, and Stardom Bound all won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Awards, so that worked out fine. But of those, only Stardom Bound and Sweet Catomine won races past the age of 2.

This is not to say they were financial flops. Wild Fit, the 2005 winner, subsequently was sold for $3 million. Habibti went for $2.9 million. Point Ashley, the winner in 2006, brought $1.4 million at auction, while Stardom Bound fetched $5.7 million at the end of her 2-year-old season from IEAH.

Two from the bunch are already significant producers. The homebred Miss Houdini, winner of the 2002 Debutante, gave owner Bo Hirsch his 2009 Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem. Wild Fit, snapped up by Coolmore, produced Brooklyn Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer. And who knows what to expect from the Medaglia d’Oro filly dropped earlier this year by Mi Sueno?

Del Mar’s stakes budget managed to cover the $50,000 or so Darley had been kicking into the Debutante, assuring that the purse for Saturday’s 61st running of the seven-furlong event remains at $250,000. A field of 10 entered, typical of recent runnings, but if there is a standout she is keeping herself a closely guarded secret.

Killer Graces, the beaten favorite in the Sorrento Stakes at the meet, is the only Debutante runner coming out of that prep. The rest have either won a maiden race at the meet – Emerald Gold, Silent Saga, Dreamcaster, Weemissfrankie, and Evelyn’s Dancer – or not, which includes the quick Coup de Coeur from up north, Self Preservation from Ireland, Hollywood Park winner Woebegon, and Wild Truffles, the only maiden in the field.

Trainer Leonard Powell can take some comfort in the fact that maidens have won the Debutante before, including champions Sweet Catomine and Stardom Bound. Powell also has landed Alonzo Quinonez, who won the 2010 Debutante aboard Tell a Kelly. Beyond that, though, Powell and Wild Truffles are on their own.

“There’s no reason to be scared away,” Powell said Thursday morning. “The race is not as strong as it has been over the years.”

Powell was raised on a farm in Normandy, far from the temptations of Paris, and has been steadily adding to his California public stable after serving a worthwhile stretch as assistant to owner-trainer Bill Currin. He turns 35 on Sept. 12, which means Powell is too young and too new to the United States to have witnessed Debutantes won by the likes of Miss Todd, Windy’s Daughter, Terlingua, Landaluce, Brave Raj, Sardula, and Sharp Cat, all fillies of consequence. There also were Debutante runnings so tough they could not be won by such protean fillies as Time to Leave, June Darling, A Kiss for Luck, Lite Light, or Spain. In 2009, Blind Luck could do no better than second.

Still, if your filly is 2, eligible, and doing well, you take a shot. Wild Truffles is a daughter of Offlee Wild, owned and bred by Greg Bardakjian, who has run three races at 5 1/2 furlongs at one-month intervals, starting in June. Her best was her last, at Del Mar, when she was risked for a claiming price of $62,500 and finished third, beaten about three lengths.

“She’s been showing us she wants more distance of ground,” Powell said, which is not a bad thing. “She breaks good from the gate, but then she gets caught flat-footed and they get away from her before she comes on at the end. Hopefully, the seven furlongs will be the difference, and we can have some fun.”