09/03/2007 11:00PM

Set Play saves best for Debutante


DEL MAR, Calif. -- The victory by Tasha’s Miracle in last month’s Sorrento Stakes would have made her the likely favorite in the Grade 1, $250,000 Del Mar Debutante for 2-year-old fillies on Monday, but she was scratched after taking ill over the weekend. That turned out to be fortuitous for Set Play, who finished second in the Sorrento but saved her coming-out party for the Debutante, which she won by two lengths over favored Spring Awakening before a Labor Day crowd of 17,930.

Set Play ($31.40), under jockey Brice Blanc, stalked the early leaders, surged to the front at midstretch, and kept her rivals safe to give trainer Peter Miller his first victory in a Grade 1 race. Spring Awakening finished a half-length in front of third-place Izarra.

Racing on a Polytrack surface that was yielding slow times on a hot, humid day, Set Play completed seven furlongs in 1:26.79.

Set Play, by Van Nistelrooy, is owned by Gerson Racing, a partnership headed by Sean Gerson, and the Charleville Stables of Walter and George Abt. They purchased Set Play in March at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales for $105,000.

The victory was the second in four starts for Set Play. She won first time out on June 17 at Hollywood Park, returned 13 days later to finish third in the Landaluce Stakes, then was second in the Sorrento here on Aug. 8.

Miller credited Blanc, Set Play’s fourth rider in four races, with getting her to relax and finish. “He did a tremendous job,” Miller said.

Twelve started in the Debutante. In addition to the scratch of Tasha’s Miracle, which was announced on Sunday, The Golden Noodle was scratched by the stewards 30 minutes before the race because she received a fluid that was “something other than water” on race day, which is not allowed, according to Scott Chaney, one of Del Mar’s stewards. Chaney said a hearing would be held with trainer Jack Van Berg regarding possible sanctions.

The Debutante was the third and final of three stakes run on Monday’s card at Del Mar.

* Topper Shopper ($7.40) followed up a maiden victory earlier in the meet with a front-running victory Monday in the $113,400 I’m Smokin Stakes for California-bred 2-year-olds. He led every step of the way and lasted over favored Raise the River to win by a half-length, with My Redeemer another half-length back in third. Topper Shopper, under Isaias Enriquez, was timed in 1:13.76 for six furlongs on Polytrack. Doug O’Neill trains Topper Shopper, an Old Topper colt, for a partnership that includes Tom and Debbie Stull’s Tommy Town Thoroughbreds.

* Wanna Runner ($18.20) grabbed the lead at the start and led every step of the way en route to a 2 1/4-length victory in the $89,190 Windy Sands Handicap for older horses Monday. Only six went to the post after the scratch of Buzzards Bay, who was ill. Heatseeker was sent off the 4-5 favorite and was second, with Plug Me In third. Wanna Runner, ridden by Tyler Baze, completed one mile on Polytrack in 1:40. Bob Baffert trains Wanna Runner, 4, for Mike Pegram. He has now won 5 times in 15 starts, including the 2006 Lone Star Derby.