DEL MAR — In the walking ring before Saturday's $159,500 Del Mar Oaks, owner Allen Paulson was admiring the impressive appearance of Savannah Dancer.
Paulson, the Encino/Savannah, Ga., aircraft manufacturer, has been admiring Savannah Dancer since the summer day in 1983 when he paid $2.5 million for the daughter of Northern Dancer at a Keeneland auction. Until last year, when a daughter of Seattle Slew sold for $3.75 million at Keeneland, no one had ever paid more than $2.5 million for a filly.
Now Savannah Dancer has a win in an important race to go with her impressive physique and impressive purchase price. With Bill Shoemaker urging her on through the stretch, Savannah Dancer closed quickly in the middle of the track and took the Oaks by three-quarters of a length over Pirate's Glow before 21,762 fans in a record-equaling performance. Her clocking of 1:48 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles on the grass matched the time that it took Taisez Vous to win this stake in 1977.
Following a stewards' inquiry, Pirate's Glow was disqualified from second to fourth for ducking out into the path of Queen of Bronze at the top of the stretch. Magnificent Lindy, the 6-5 favorite running on grass for the first time, had finished third, about a length behind Savannah Dancer, but was moved up to second. Queen of Bronze, who finished fourth, more than two lengths back of the winner, received third money after the disqualification.
Before the Oaks, Savannah Dancer had won three stakes this year, one at Santa Anita and two at Hollywood Park, but they were in restricted races, which because of their eligibility conditions are not open to all horses.
The Oaks was an open race, and even though Savannah Dancer had won two straight on the grass, the Del Mar crowd made Magnificent Lindy a slight favorite, based on her strong second-place finish to the standout Fran's Valentine in the Hollywood Oaks on July 7.
Savannah Dancer, paying $5.20, $2.60 and $2.40, won for the sixth time in 13 starts and earned $94,250, bringing her career purses to more than $300,000. Magnificent Lindy returned $2.60 and $2.20 and Queen of Bronze paid $2.60.
Shoemaker, who suffered a broken vertebra in a spill here July 26, resumed riding two weeks ago and hadn't registered a win until he won Saturday's first race. The win aboard Savannah Dancer was the 929th in a stake, the 211th in a $100,000 stake and the 8,484th overall for the 54-year-old rider, who holds the record in all three categories.
"This is a nice, tough filly," Shoemaker said. "She's gonna improve. She's gonna get better with age."
While Shoemaker had a clear, wide trip throughout, Eddie Delahoussaye was not as fortunate astride Magnificent Lindy. Going down the backstretch, with Pirate's Glow and Rambolie running first and second and Savannah Dancer looming in fourth, Magnificent Lindy was trapped on the rail.
Delahoussaye wouldn't go as far as saying the traffic problem cost him the race, but Magnificent Lindy did finish willingly and was running at least as fast as Savannah Dancer at the finish.
"I thought I was going to go down at one point," Delahoussaye said. "This is a long-striding filly and you can't go stop and go with her like you might with some others. The sharp turns here don't help, either. She should be much better off with the wider turns at Santa Anita."
Sandy Hawley rode four winners Saturday, but it was Pirate's Glow's response to his left-handed whip in the Oaks that resulted in their disqualification. Pirate's Glow had the lead and the rail with just under a quarter mile to run when Hawley switched the whip from his right to the left hand. His mount veered out, causing Pat Valenzuela, riding Queen of Bronze, to stand in the irons.
"My filly shied a little bit when that happened to the horses inside her, but she kept on going," Shoemaker said.
Savannah Dancer has won four times and finished third once in five turf starts. Trainer Ron McAnally, who hurriedly returned to Del Mar from Lexington, Ky., Saturday after helping the retired John Henry take up residence at the Kentucky Horse Park, said he'll keep Savannah Dancer on turf.
"Those spots, though, are few and far between," McAnally said. If available races are a problem for this grass-loving 3-year-old, McAnally ought to invite a few horses over and run her in his backyard.