DEL MAR, CA – D P Racing’s Contintental Divide gave every bit of effort in a wide trip to take the lead and held off Smokem to break his maiden in Sunday’s $100,000 Graduation Stakes.
The winner of the 5 1/2-furlong main track race for juvenile California-breds had previously finished second in his debut on July 21, 2 1/4 lengths behind Smokem. This time, Continental Divide and returning jockey Victor Espinoza were forced to race seven-wide down the back stretch after breaking from the far outside in post 11. Espinoza settled his colt back into a three-wide group stalking the leaders while Bookies Luck set the first 1/4 mile in :21.81.
Halfway through the turn, Espinoza let Continental Divide take off, and the son of Animal Kingdom began to storm past foes along the outside path. Exiting the far turn, Continental Divide let his momentum carry him to the front, and the James Cassidy trainee held off a late charge from Smokem to win by 3/4 of a length.
“That was a nice move; a really nice move (around the turn),” said Espinoza. “He can do that; he’s talented. When he ran the first time, he was green. I didn’t want to force him that day. He’s got time to learn. He looks like he could be a good horse.”
The move through the far turn might have excited Espinoza, but Cassidy was unsure if the colt, who was purchased for $245,000 as a yearling, would be able to sustain it on the stretch drive.
“That move he made scared me to death,” Cassidy said. “I’m thinking, ‘Victor, you might be a little premature here.’ But what a nice colt. That price we paid for him looks like a fair one now. He’s got the greatest mind.”
Smokem and jockey Evin Roman ran out of time to catch Continental Divide after a tepid start from the rail hampered his performance.
“The (inside) post didn’t help,” Roman said. “He was away a little slow, but he came running. A good race for him.”
Drizzy took third by a 1/2 length over Cono, with Schulace, Get Em Up Scout, Utah Ute, Bookies Luck, and Hit the Seam completing the order of finish. Don’t Stalk Me and Sir Valentine were both scratched.
Continental Divide paid $9.20 to win, $4.60 to place, and $3 to show. Smokem paid $4.20 to place and $3.20 to show, while Drizzy paid $3.20 to show.