Trainer A.C. Avila is no stranger to the idea of racing females
against males. “In South America, it’s a normal thing, like in Europe,”
he said Thursday morning while overseeing workouts on the Del Mar main
Avila, a 58-year-old native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, will go beyond
normal by U.S. standards, and certainly by historical standards for the
$300,000 Eddie Read Stakes, when he sends out Celtic Princess to face
seven male rivals in the first Grade I event of the meeting Saturday.
Celtic Princess is believed to be the first female runner to participate in the event.
A 7-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare, Celtic Princess was turned over
to Avila by owner/breeder Jessica Coudelaria late last year. Avila, the
son of a trainer, began his career at 17 when he took over the stable
after his father died. He came to the U.S. in 1990, settling on the
Southern California circuit, and has four Del Mar stakes victories,
among them the 2009 Eddie Read with Global Hunter.
Given five months off after a December victory in her first outing
for Avila, Celtic Princess finished second beaten a head by Dubawi
Heights after setting the pace in the 1 1/8-mile, Grade I Gamely
Handicap on May 30 at Hollywood Park.
A cut back to her favorite distance proved the winning move for
Celtic Princess in the $150,000, Grade II Royal Heroine Mile on July 4
at Hollywood Park. Despite a less-than auspicious start from the outside
post in the field of six she was quickly positioned directly outside
pacesetter Givine by jockey Rafael Bejarano and in the final eighth of a
mile asserted her superiority over the early leader, kicking away to
win by 2 ¼ lengths.
Avila said his initial inclination for Celtic Princess at Del Mar was
the Grade II, $250,000 John C. Mabee on Sunday, August 14 over the same
1 1/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante turf course as the Read. That would
have provided more than a month gap between races. But the higher
grading and purse of the Read proved a strong lure to owner Coudelaria.
Avila expects Celtic Princess to be very competitive in the Read spot.
“She’s so professional and smart and she does things right,” Avila
said. “She doesn’t need to be on the lead. She showed that in the Royal
Heroine. Acclamation has more speed and if (he shows it) she can be
pretty close and make a run.”