DEL MAR — Dernier Empereur's retirement party has been postponed indefinitely.
The 6-year-old Trempolino horse was all set to go to stud in New Zealand early last month when trainer Ben Cecil decided to run him one more time in a July 27 allowance race here.
Although unable to handle Gentlemen, Dernier Empereur finished nine clear of the rest of the field and it was decided by Cecil and owner Gary Tanaka to keep his career going.
The choice has proven very profitable.
Three weeks after an impressive win in the Escondido Handicap, Dernier Empereur got up to beat favored Talloires by a half-length in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap Saturday.
Pat Valenzuela, who bounced back after being thrown in an accident in the first race when Nearly Perfect broke down, rode Dernier Empereur, the 6-1 third choice. He was sixth early while stablemate Urgent Request ran off to a long lead, came wide into the stretch and collared the 3-5 favorite in 2:13 4/5 for the 1 3/8 miles on turf.
"I think Urgent Request [who wound up last] actually helped this horse," Cecil said. "That wasn't the plan. I was a little worried that the fractions might be a little too quick [for Dernier Empereur] with Urgent Request in the race, but no one seemed to take him on early, so the race set up pretty much like the Escondido.
"The main pack wasn't going at a great pace. Urgent Request got tired and this horse loves to be covered up. We doesn't have a long steady, run, but he does have a short, quick one."
For Valenzuela, it was the biggest victory since he returned to California a few months back after riding in the east.
"He ran super," he said. "I know they were thinking about retiring him and after he won [the Escondido], I said, 'Don't you dare.' Now he comes back and runs another like this.
"Talloires was really going the last part of it and this horse went and got him. He really has a nice kick the last quarter. I hit him left-handed and he changed leads and went and got him. It feels great."
There were no excuses for Talloires, who finished 2 1/4 lengths ahead of 8-1 shot Party Season.
"He ran a good race," said jockey Kent Desormeaux. "I'm just trying to decide if there was something I could have done--one way or another--to get him to run better. Maybe I could have done something, somehow, but I don't know what."
Dernier Empereur paid $15 and he'll probably make his next start in the $1 million Canadian International on Sept. 29 at Woodbine, the site of the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 26.
So much for the Exotic Wood-Different showdown in the $300,000 Chula Vista Handicap today.
An injury to her left foreleg will keep Exotic Wood in the barn this afternoon, reducing the Grade II race to a four-horse field and making Different an extremely short price to win for the third time in as many U.S. starts.
"She strained something, probably while galloping [Friday]," said Exotic Wood's trainer, Ron Ellis. "There's swelling at the ankle of the left front leg. She couldn't gallop [Saturday]. We're treating her with an anti-inflammatory [medication], but because she's such a valuable filly, we'll probably do X-rays and some scanning."
A winner in eight of nine lifetime starts and most recently the Go For Wand at Saratoga on July 28, Exotic Wood had trained well in preparation for the Chula Vista.
"Of course, we wouldn't want to do anything that would threaten injury for the long run," said Ellis.
Perfect in two American starts with one win coming on the dirt and the other on the turf in the Beverly Hills Handicap, Different is 6-5 on the morning line, but she is likely to go much shorter. With Exotic Wood scratched, Chris McCarron has regained the mount on Different, replacing Eddie Delahoussaye.
The three remaining starters in the 1 1/16 mile race are Borodislew, the defending champion who is two for two at Del Mar, Top Rung and Cat's Cradle.
There is a Pick Six carryover of more than $134,000 for today.
A winner of three at four at Monmouth Park before Saturday, Smoke Glacken was awesome in his first invasion of New York.
The 2-year-old son of Two Punch blew away his seven opponents in the $200,000 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, winning by nine lengths under Craig Perret in 1:23 3/5 for the seven furlongs.
After putting away 4-5 favorite and previously unbeaten Kelly Kip after a 44 1/5 half-mile, Smoke Glacken, a 7-1 shot, just kept extending his lead in the final three furlongs.
"He's done everything we've asked of him," said Perret, who rode Smoke Glacken for trainer Henry Carroll and a partnership which consists of Bob Levy, William Roberts and oddsmaker Roxy Roxborough, among others. "I looked back at the quarter pole and he was pulling away. I think we can sit back and hang on to this one for a few days--it was an exciting afternoon for all of us."
Ordway, the 4-1 second choice, was second, two lengths in front of 9-1 shot Gun Fight. Thisnearlywasmine, who broke his maiden at Hollywood Park for owners Jan, Mace and Samantha Siegel and trainer Randy Bradshaw, was fourth under Chris McCarron.
Kelly Kip, who had won his first three outings by an average of more than seven lengths, faded to seventh. "It's hard to believe he gave it up so early," said trainer Allen Jerkens. "I'm very disappointed and I don't know what I'm going to do with him now. Every 2-year-old race from here on is over a mile and after what I've seen today, he doesn't even want to race [seven furlongs]."