DEL MAR — Mel Stute, who among other things is the trainer of Snow Chief, is never one to miss out on a chance to purchase a good-looking thoroughbred.
On May 22, a day that Stute was to saddle Snow Chief in the Jersey Derby at Garden State Park, he saw a thoroughbred he liked. In the fifth race that day in New Jersey, a horse named Brave Raj ran away with a maiden race by 7 1/2 lengths. Stute went out and purchased him.
It was a good move.
After a couple of disappointing efforts on the West Coast, Brave Raj won Monday's $50,000-added Sorrento Stakes, a Grade III event for 2-year-old fillies at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
With leading jockey Patrick Valenzuela aboard, Brave Raj ran 7 furlongs in 1 minute 22 3/5 seconds. As the pre-race favorite, Brave Raj returned $5.80 to win, $3.80 to place and $3.00 to show. Breech, ridden by Terry Lipham, placed and paid $6.80 and $4.60. Footy, who beat Brave Raj in the Junior Miss Stakes Aug. 6 here, finished third and returned $3.60.
"I really liked the way the horse ran that day in New Jersey," Stute said. "She looked terrific. The guy who had her was selling three horses and I asked if she was available. So we struck up a deal."
It didn't look like such a good deal at first. Brave Raj came west and first ran in the July 4 Landaluce Stakes at Hollywood Park. She finished fifth, nine lengths behind the winner, Delicate Vine.
"I thought she'd run a lot better that day but she didn't," Stute said. "It was one of those things. I was very disappointed."
The next time out, in the Junior Miss Stakes, Brave Raj ran better but ran with poor racing luck. She lost her footing out of the gate and later got blocked on the far turn. By the time she was able to make her move, Footy had steered clear of the pack. Brave Raj ran on for second.
"This time (Monday), we didn't have any problems," Valenzuela said. "We got out of the gate well and we had a good position to make a run at the wire."
Breech, who had pressured pace setter, Evil Elaine, took the lead going into the stretch but then lugged out a bit. In doing so, she ran into Brave Raj. It helped the winner.
"It (the contact) made my filly pick it up," Valenzuela said.
And the victory picked up the spirits of Stute, who had not saddled a stakes winner since May 22, the day Snow Chief won the Jersey Derby. Or should it be known as the day Stute bought Brave Raj?
"Boy, I guess looking back, it has been a while since we've won one of these," Stute said. "I guess that was a great day for us."
Del Mar Notes
Mel Stute said the next step for Brave Raj will probably be the $225,000 Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 31. Brave Raj is not eligible for that race, but Stute said he will try to run her as a supplemental entry. Delicate Vine has already been nominated for that race. . . . Eddie Delahoussaye finished eighth aboard Picene in the Sorrento. He had won three straight stakes here . . . All-time leading jockey Bill Shoemaker turns 55 today . . . How's this for what you would least want to hear if you had a bet on Windwood Lane in Monday's sixth race? Just moments before post time, as all of the horses were going into the gate, the following announcement was made by track announcer Trevor Denman: "Windwood Lane has unseated his rider and is running around loose at the 7 furlong pole." After a long delay, they corraled Windwood Lane and Patrick Valenzuela jumped back aboard. He finished a surprising second.