When Elate arrived at Delaware Park for last year’s Delaware Handicap, the then 4-year-old filly had not raced in more than seven months. Still, she was so much more accomplished than her seven rivals that she was made the 3-5 favorite. The filly ran by the field on the backstretch and won comfortably by 3 1/4 lengths.
Elate returns Saturday to try to win the DelCap again. She will be favored again. But this is a much stronger field than she faced last year.
Blue Prize has been first or second in 15 of her 19 races and has won $1.162 million. She was second to Elate in a June 15 Churchill Downs stakes race, but she was given a ridiculous ride by Javier Castellano that night.
The pace was very slow (25.02 seconds for the first quarter-mile of the mile-and-an-eighth race), but instead of being aggressive, Castellano fought with his mount, restraining her from doing what she wanted to do, which was run.
When the jockey finally let Blue Prize run, she gave a big effort in the stretch but could not withstand the late charge of Elate, who rated smoothly for jockey Jose Ortiz. One horse was comfortable the entire trip; the other was not. The comfortable horse won.
“We have been planning on running her in the Delaware Handicap since the beginning of the year,’’ said Blue Prize’s trainer, Ignacio Correas IV. "She is tough. She doesn’t mind travelling. She loves to race. She is very adaptable, and I think she is going to love the mile-and-a-quarter.”
In fact, Blue Prize won at the DelCap distance in Argentina before coming to the United States. And Joe Bravo, who has never been accused of being passive, will be in for the ride.
Elate, however, also loves the distance, winning both of her mile-and-a-quarter starts -- the Alabama Stakes as a 3-year-old and the Del Cap last year. Her trainer, Bill Mott, a master at getting horses to win at longer distances, won the DelCap in 2012 and 2013 with Royal Delta. Nobody will be surprised if Elate goes back to back as well.
However, if you are looking to beat the favorite, Blue Prize has a real chance, as does the Manitoba-bred Escape Clause. You don’t see too many horses with 20 wins in 32 starts, but that is Escape Clause, who dominated Western Canada races (she won 12 times at Assiniboia Downs) before coming to the states last year and proving she could run with some of the best.
Escape Clause finished in front of Elate in the April 14 Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park, in Hot Springs, Ark. She ran an incredible race but could not hold off the brilliant Midnight Bisou and lost by a head. Elate was 2 3/4 lengths behind Escape Clause.
Escape Clause tried Midnight Bisou again on Belmont Stakes Day in the Ogden Phipps. She finished fourth, beaten by 11 lengths, but you can probably throw that race out. Escape Clause had to chase the speedy Come Dancing while off the rail on a day when everything on the rail was winning. She was way out of her comfort zone, but she figures to get a much more relaxed trip in the DelCap.
“I think all the traveling kind of caught up with her in the Ogden Phipps,” trainer Don Schnell said.
Starting last fall, Escape Clause went from Canada to Southern California to Arizona to Arkansas, then to Minnesota and New York. And, there were no flights -- it was all done by van. The trip from New York to Stanton, Del., was like a trip around the corner compared to some of those marathon rides.