Astronaut Soars To Victory In Del Mar Handicap, Gets BC Turf Spot

Astronaut (24-1) topped a trio of long shots in the money for the Del Mar Handicap Presented by The Japan Racing Association at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Del Mar, Calif. Master Piece (23-1) and Acclimate (10-1) were second and third.

The win by the 4-year-old son of Quality Road in the 1 3/8-mile turf marathon came as a shock to many. But not to his immediate connections.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza. “I thought in his last race (1 ¾-mile San Juan Capistrano in June) he was a little too close and the race was a little too long for him.”

Astronaut settled in seventh place in the field of 11 and made a sustained run through the last three-eighths to prevail by a half-length.

“We wanted to run him long, but we weren’t sure how long,” Shirreffs said. “And when he ran so well going a mile and three-quarters, it seemed like this was possible.”

The race being a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $4 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar on November 6, Astronaut’s place in it is not only possible, but probable.

Del Mar Handicap favorite United had traffic problems from the mile mark to midstretch and finished fourth.

“It was frustrating,” said Gary Mandella. “He had bad racing luck, didn’t get the kind of trip he needs to show himself off and had to settle for fourth when we thought he was the best horse.”

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