Godolphin’s Pixelate, benefiting from yet another perfectly timed ride on the turf by Del Mar’s leading rider, Umberto Rispoli, was along in time to score by a head in the 76th running of the Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar Derby Sunday at the shore oval.
The invader from the east coast -- trained by Michael Stidham -- had a near perfect trip saving ground and laying third for most of the run, then put it in gear down the lane for the Italian journeyman who is riding like a star in his first season at Del Mar. It was the fourth winner on the afternoon for Rispoli, giving him a one-win lead – 49 to 48 -- over his ace counterpart, Flavien Prat.
Prat had a pair of victories on the card, including a stakes score in the Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf that was his 14th of the meet, a Del Mar riding record. The battle for supremacy between Rispoli and Prat at Del Mar's 81st summer stand will come down to the 27th and final day of the meet on Monday.
Pixelate, a homebred City Zip colt and the 3-2 favorite, returned $5.00, $3.20 and $2.80 across the board after he covered the nine furlongs in 1:50.25. He picked up a winner’s share of $120,000 and now has a record of three wins, five seconds and three thirds in 11 starts for winnings of $311,400.
Finishing second was Alfred Pais’ Margot’s Boy, while third was Paula Capestro’s Dominant Soul.
Rispoli entered the race with plenty of confidence.
“I talked to Mike (trainer Michael Stidham) this morning and we both agreed that we had the best horse in the race," Rispoli said. "I said I wanted to ride him up closer than normal for him; I told him this is a smaller tighter course, not like Churchill (Downs). He said: ‘You ride him like you want to.’ I had a great trip and he fired when he had to."
Also not lost on Rispoli, who has ridden all over the world, was booting home a winner for an international powerhouse like Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin.
I’m very happy...I’ve waited 16 years (his riding career) to wear these," Rispoli said while pointing to the famous royal blue silks of Godolphin.
With Stidham not making the trip to Del Mar, Southern California-based trainer Gary Mandella deputized in is absence.
“My dad (Richard Mandella) and Michael have been friends for a long time. Michael sends his horses here to my dad’s barn and dad sends his horses back east to Michael," Mandella said. "I’m happy to help him win a big race. The horse arrived Thursday, galloped a couple days and he was ready to go. We didn’t do anything. My instruction to [Rispoli] was ‘Did Mike call you? Yes? Then good luck.’”
Pixelate, whose only prior stakes win came in Belmont Park's Awad last October, entered the Del Mar Derby off a third in the June 20 Audubon Stakes at Churchill Downs and a runner-up in the July 4 Kent Stakes (G3) at Delaware Park.