DEL MAR — It was poetic justice, perhaps, that the richest race in Del Mar history should be won by a longshot, but that's exactly what happened Monday.
Raipillan, a 4-year-old chestnut colt ridden by Russell Baze, was sent off as a 41-to-1 no-hoper and stunned everyone by winning the $300,000 Del Mar Handicap by a nose in one of the closest finishes of the meeting.
Martin Pedroza brought an even longer shot, 70-to-1 Schiller, home second, a head in front of a hard-charging Shulich, ridden by Santiago Soto.
Raipillan, who arrived in the United States in March from his native Chile, covered the mile and three-eighths on the firm turf course in 2:14 2/5, two-fifths of a second off the course record.
The victory was worth $165,000 to his owner, Clement L. Hirsch of Newport Beach, and was almost as lucrative to those who had bet on the Chilean import, who is by El Morgon out of Indiecita. Raipillan paid $84.20, $40.20 and $9.60; Schiller paid $71.40 and $11.00, and Shulich's third-place finish was worth $2.40.
The 10-2 exacta on Raipillan and Schiller paid a whopping $6,761.50, not a record, but a handsome return on a $5 investment.
Raipillan's trainer, Warren Stute, said he had expected a good showing by the colt on the basis of its impressive work on Aug. 25, when it covered the same distance in 2:25 3/5. Baze, however, was nonplussed.
"It surprised me," he said. "I'd never even seen him before today.
"They've been kind of fighting him trying to keep him off the pace, but Warren (Stute) told me today he didn't care where the horse was laying as long as he was relaxed.
"It just turned out we were laying sixth, about seven lengths off the pace, and the horse was real good and relaxed. We got around there by the half-mile pole and I asked him to start picking it up a little bit. He eased right into the bit and we came around horses, and when I asked him to run, he ran.
"He damn near didn't run fast enough though."
As it was, Schiller, who had stayed close to the leaders, made a run that almost won the race, while Shulich, running wide, also finished strongly but not strongly enough.
The rest of the field, in order of finish, was Attention, Montecito, Prince True, Honor Medal, Le Solaret, Fabbiani, Seismic Wave, Louis Le Grand and Vernon Castle.
Vernon Castle's poor showing was almost as surprising as Raipillan's good performance.
The crowd of 23,288, which brought total attendance for the three-day Labor Day weekend to 75,417, had sent the entry of Vernon Castle, Shulich and Louis Le Grand off as its 3-to-5 favorite. For much of the early going, it seemed a wise choice.
Vernon Castle, Attention, Montecito and Fabbiani led the pack the first time past the stands, and the John Sullivan-trained 3-year-old still held the lead at the half-mile pole.
This was the first time out against older horses for Vernon Castle, however, and the winner of the La Jolla Mile and Del Mar Derby could not hold on during the late going and faded fast.
In slowing, Vernon Castle didn't help Fernando Toro any, either. Toro a three-time winner of the race, had Montecito positioned just where he wanted him. Or so he thought.
"I was running third with my horse and I was right behind (Vernon Castle)," Toro said. "I said, 'well, he's the one to beat, I might as well follow him.' And then the first one to stop was him. That's the way it goes."
Eddie Delahoussaye, Vernon Castle's jockey in all four of his lifetime victories, said the Seattle Slew colt might have been better off had he not gone to the lead right away.
"It's a bad situation," Delahoussaye said. "He broke running. We were hoping somebody else would go to the lead. I was stuck up there trying to get him back without fighting him, but it was just one of those things. We'd rather have been off the pace, but there was nothing I could do.
"I still think he's a good horse and I think he can beat these horses. I don't know, maybe he don't want to run a mile and three-eighths, either.
"But he was pricking his ears regardless. He wanted to run. Maybe if he'd have broke off the pace, he'd have done the same thing."
Baze was among many who were taken aback by Vernon Castle's performance, but he was far from unhappy at the result.
"I was kind of surprised to see him give it up that early in the race," he said. "He looked like he was sitting up there on the lead fairly easily.
"When I started asking my horse to move, he (Vernon Castle) wasn't going. We caught right up to that bunch up there on the lead. It kinda surprised me that they didn't have any more left than they did.
"He sure didn't fire like I thought he would. I figured him to just take off and win it easy. I'm glad I was wrong."