DEL MAR — With a nine-horse band of fillies and mares whose form was the paragon of inconsistency, Sunday's $165,400 Ramona Handicap at Del Mar figured to be a scramble.
It was scrambled further by trouble for one horse out of the gate, trouble for a couple of horses on the far turn and trouble for the favorite, Auspiciante, coming through the stretch.
In the jockeys' room after the race, the trouble turned to confusion and then disbelief on the part of jockey Gary Stevens, who rode Auspiciante.
The winner of last year's Ramona, Auspiciante finished third, just over a length back, but there was enough contact in the stretch for Stevens to claim foul against Short Sleeves, the 10-1 longshot who was ridden to victory by Eddie Delahoussaye.
Stevens' objection was disallowed by the stewards, giving Short Sleeves a victory worth $97,900, but when Auspiciante's rider looked up to watch a television rerun of his claim, he found that, in his opinion, the officials were reviewing the wrong part of the race.
"They (the stewards) were looking at the five-sixteenths pole, when (Fernando) Toro's horse (Secuencia) was getting out," Stevens said. "That's not where I was bothered. They should have been looking at the stretch."
In the stretch run, it appeared that Short Sleeves, closing rapidly on the outside, was closing a hole that Stevens had aim on with Auspiciante.
"Look," Stevens said, watching the rerun for the second time. "Bam . . . bam . . . bam. She gets me three times, then my mare starts running again.
"I don't know if we could have won, but the trainer (Ron McAnally) noticed it enough to agree that we should claim. It's sure upsetting to come in here and watch the rerun and then find that they're looking at the wrong part of the race."
The stewards said that Stevens, Del Mar's leading rider, specifically said he was bothered at the five-sixteenths pole, which is on the turn.
"I heard (steward) Hubert (Jones) specifically ask on the phone if the five-sixteenths pole was where the trouble was," said steward Dave Samuel. "Stevens indicated that that's where it was, and that's why we looked at that part. If it was in a different area, he should have said so."
Stevens phoned the stewards from the jockeys' room after the decision had been made.
"I can't even remember saying which pole," Stevens said. "I thought I did say that it was entering the stretch where I was bothered.
"In the heat of battle, it's hard to keep track of the poles, especially on this grass course, where the poles are different. The trouble was at the three-sixteenths pole."
Ironically, it was Stevens who rode Short Sleeves last time, when the 5-year-old English-bred mare ran last in another scramble, the Palomar Handicap on Aug. 16. Delahoussaye rode Short Sleeves for the first time Sunday.
Delahoussaye thought he had also encountered trouble on the turn.
"I was knocked sideways," Delahoussaye said. "Down the stretch, I didn't know where Gary was. I just kept riding, with my eye on the finish line."
Turning to Stevens, Delahoussaye said: "How could my little horse push your big horse?"
Short Sleeves made her first American start a winning one at Del Mar last year and has now won four out of five starts here. Darrell Vienna, her trainer, felt that Stevens had her too close to the pace in the Palomar.
Short Sleeves paid $23.20, $10.20 and $6.80. Festivity, the winner of the Palomar, got squeezed leaving the gate Sunday and rallied through the stretch to lose by only a neck, paying $7.40 and $4.60. Auspiciante's show price was $2.80.
McAnally saddled another horse in the race, Adorable Micol, and she finished fourth.
"Both of my horses had trouble coming out of the turn," McAnally said. "Either one of them might have won with better trips."
The crowd of 24,192 saw the second slowest running of the Ramona, which has been held at the 1 1/8-mile distance since 1959. It took Short Sleeves 1:50 1/5 to reach the wire, with the early pace, which was set by Perfect Match, being equally slow.
Short Sleeves, who had earned only $70,707 going into the Ramona, is owned by Noel Bloom of Hidden Hills and Michael Warner of Los Angeles.
For Vienna, this was his 10th win of the season and the 9th on grass.
"This is a one-run horse," Vienna said. "Today she got that late run. But (with the objection) they made me sweat a bit for this one."
Delahoussaye thought that Short Sleeves' courage influenced the outcome.
"She was really game," the jockey said. "She was fighting all the way."
Fighting too much, Gary Stevens thought. But that was just another jockey's opinion.
Horse Racing Notes