Istanford star of dazzling weekend

Istanford’s rip-roaring display in one of the feature races at Del Mar this weekend was the highlight of an unforgettable weekend of action for Mike Stidham.

Istanford positively routed her rivals in the Grade II San Clemente Handicap yesterday, at Del Mar. Jockey Rafael Bejarano sent his mount straight into the lead and was never headed by another runner in the 12 horse field, skipping away down the stretch from her dumb-struck rivals to record a two and a half length victory at the wire.

“I knew there was other speed in the race and I wasn’t expecting to be on the lead,” Bejarano said. “But my filly broke so well and went right to the front and I just let her go. She was relaxed out there; she was running easy. That’s why she had that nice kick at the end. She wasn’t running that hard.”

Istanford, owned by Dawn and Ike Thrash, and Janet and Sam Alley, netted connections $200,000 with this win – the second of two stake victories this year for the three-year-old daughter of Istan. And after the race, Stidham intimated that his stable star would be staying at the west coast venue in a quest for further big race glory.

“Obviously, she loves this firm turf here,” Stidham said. We’ll see (what’s next). We always nominate to a lot of stakes and we’ll be looking around. But the way she ran on this turf course, it’s (staying at Del Mar) something to think about.”

But Istanford’s scintillating win was only one of four over the weekend for the Stidham stable, and in Pirate’s Trove, who battled to stake glory up in Canada today, Stidham looks to have on his hands yet another filly with a whole bucket-load of potential.

Al Shahania’s three-year-old daughter of Speightstown was poised on the heels of the leader for the first half of the Duchess Stakes at Woodbine – a race worth $125,000, and ran over seven furlongs. As the pack entered the home stretch, jockey Florent Geroux kicked his mount into the lead, cruising to a clear advantage over the chasing pack before hanging on for victory by the slimmest of margins at the wire.

“I’ve been working her for several weeks before she raced,” said Geroux, after the race. “She can be a little bit hyper, a little bit complicated sometimes, but she ran very fast and is a very nice filly.”

Pirate’s Trove took her over-all record to two-from-two, having broke her maiden at Arlington last time out.

Stidham’s two other stake runners this weekend each took home the runners-up trophies. And Jessica’s Star ran his heart out to lose out on victory by an agonizing head in the Ohio Derby.

Jockey David Mello looked as though he and his mount had surged to glory down the stretch, only for East Hall to snatch victory in the shadow of the post. Jessica’s Star, owned by Mark Breen, lost nothing in defeat, however, and on this display alone should soon be adding to his four wins already this term.

Over at Arlington, Stellaris came with a sure and steady stretch run under James Graham to get within three-quarters of a length of clinching the Grade III Arlington Oaks. Like Jessica’s Star, Stellaris, owned by Tom Van Meter in partnership with Mike Stidham, has been a revelation this term, and is surely overdue a first stake victory, having finished runner-up in the Northbound Pride Oaks last time out.

Two more winners for Stidham this weekend came the way of Helen Kathleen and Locker Room Guy, both at Arlington.

Locker Room Guy, owned in partnership by Haynes Stables and Steven Perlick, was shrugging the monkey from his back when storming to a near all-the-way victory, James Graham riding.

One day earlier, Helen Kathleen achieved the exact same feat – only in contrasting fashion. Helen Kathleen, owned by Gary Biszantz, made a rattling stretch run under James Graham to rally to a half-length victory.

And Stidham has plenty of opportunities this week to add to his impressive recent haul.

On Thursday, Stidham has George’s Peach and Song to You entered at Del Mar, and Go Doug Go and Follow the Kitten at Arlington.

On Friday, he has Local One Thirty at Del Mar and Hubbala Hubbala at Arlington.

Check back in again later this week for a look ahead at next weekend’s action.


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