10/06/2008 11:00PM

Unlikely Cal-bred hits her stride


ARCADIA, Calif. - At this point in a singular life of accomplishment and privilege, George Strawbridge Jr. could be justified in thinking that opportunities for unique experiences might be thinning out.

Descended from the founder of Campbell Soup, a pillar of the steeplechase world, and a former professor of Latin American history, Strawbridge turned 71 this week with legacy intact as banking entrepreneur, philanthropist, and patron of the arts, not to mention a long and rewarding involvement with the Thoroughbred racehorse.

These days his Augustin Stable colors are flying high. In England, with trainer John Gosden at the wheel, Strawbridge has bragging rights to owning lengths the best 2-year-old filly in the kingdom. Her name is Rainbow View, and she does not yet know what it means to lose. Then in Kentucky, last Friday, Strawbridge and his Hall of Fame friend Jonathan Sheppard conspired to win the $400,000 First Lady Stakes with Forever Together, the daughter of Belong to Me who also won the Diana at Saratoga in July.

Still, all this is nothing new. Strawbridge has experienced similar success in the past with the likes of Tikkanen, Alice Springs, Selkirk, Trezieme, and With Anticipation, not to mention the two-time steeplechase champion and Hall of Famer Cafe Prince. Then came Sunday afternoon at Santa Anita, where Augustin Stable entered a brave new level of achievement by winning the California Cup Juvenile Fillies with Saucey Evening.

"It's a very unusual feeling," Strawbridge said on Tuesday, from his office in Greenville, Del. "I've never had this happen before. I've been amazingly fortunate this year. And both the 2-year-old fillies look rather special."

Rainbow View speaks for herself. After winning the Fillies Mile at Ascot on Sept. 27, the daughter of Dynaformer is 4 for 4 and the firm future-book favorite for the English 1000 Guineas next May. Saucey Evening, on the other hand, still takes some explaining, in spite of her stylish win by nearly three lengths last weekend.

Saucey Evening made her debut in June at Colonial Downs in Virginia and inhaled her field going six furlongs on firm turf. Not long after that, trainer Graham Motion discovered an odd "CA" in her breeding line. Embedded as he is at the Fair Hill Training Center in northern Maryland and racing almost exclusively in the East and Midwest, Motion can be forgiven his surprise.

"With 2-year-olds, your options are always so limited," Motion noted. "That's when I noticed. My first thought was, 'Wouldn't it be neat if there was some kind of Cal-bred race for her?' "

Ask and ye shall receive. Motion first sent Saucey Evening west for the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Stakes at Del Mar in July. She lost by a half-length, but not without summoning the same kick she unveiled as a maiden. Based upon that evidence, Motion sent Saucey Evening back to California for the subsequent Del Mar Debutante, in which she finished seventh.

"I thought she was really unlucky in that race," Motion said. "Stardom Bound, the winner, switched to the outside and we went inside, and nothing worked out for us. I'm not saying we would have beaten Stardom Bound, but we would have been a lot closer."

Saucey Evening's powerful finish was in full swing last Sunday when she drew away from her field in her first try over the Pro-Ride synthetic surface. Her final time of 1:43.14 for the 1 1/16 miles stacked up well when compared to both the Cal Cup Juvenile (1:43.36) and the Cal Cup Matron for older fillies and mares (1:43.40).

How does a Cal-bred end up being owned by a Main Line Philadelphia blue blood and trained by a British expatriate in East Coast training center splendor? Well, the definitions are accommodating. Jeweled Lady, the dam of Saucey Evening, was covered in Kentucky by More Than Ready. She returned to California to drop her 2006 foal at the Golden Eagle Farm of owners Betty and Larry Mabee, then was bred back to a California stallion. Voila! The resulting filly was a Cal-bred, consigned to the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale, and bought by Strawbridge for $160,000.

"We were just now looking on Brisnet at her female family," Motion said. "I was quite shocked."

Jeweled Lady never raced, but her full brother General Challenge certainly did, to the tune of $2.8 million in earnings and victories in the Santa Anita Handicap, Santa Anita Derby, and Pacific Classic. Notable Career, a half-sister, won the Oak Leaf and the Landaluce. Their dam was Excellent Lady, good enough to win four California races and vibrant enough to pass along the essence of a family that also includes Southern Halo and Leallah.

Saucey Evening is soft chestnut with white trim, and equipped with a generous stride that belies her stature. Still, as Strawbridge pointed out, she was well beaten no matter what the circumstances in the Del Mar Debutante, which is why Saucey Evening could be pre-entered in both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. Rainbow View is committed to the Juvenile Fillies on the synthetic main track, while Forever Together will try to nail down a championship in the Filly and Mare Turf.

In the meantime, Motion, now a devoted fan of Cal-breds, is on the watch for others who might be lurking in the stable.

"I haven't noticed any so far," he said. "But I'm looking."