Miss Leslie romps to record Delaware Handicap score

The list of great Delaware Handicap winners is a long one, filled with Hall of Famers and champions.

The list of horses that have won the Delaware Handicap by at least a dozen lengths is quite a bit shorter: Miss Leslie’s is the only name on it.

On the page, Saturday’s Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, the highlight of the Delaware Park meet, looked like a wide-open affair. On the racetrack, it was anything but.

Under regular pilot Angel Cruz, Miss Leslie bided her time off the pace before swooping by passing the three-eighths and powering home to win by 12 lengths. Running time for the 1 ¼ miles over a sloppy main track was 2:04.50.

The 12-length margin of victory was the largest in Delaware Handicap history, surpassing the 10 ¾-length romp recorded by Royal Delta in 2013.

“It’s a good feeling, a good feeling because she was impressive,” said winning trainer Claudio Gonzalez. “She was doing good, and she broke fast, and longer is better for her.”

It was Gonzalez’s fourth career graded stakes win, and the richest and first Grade 2 in his career.

While the Gonzalez operation increasingly includes homebreds and sales purchases, he and owner BB Horses obtained Miss Leslie in what for them is the old-fashioned way: via the claimbox. They reached in and took her for $25,000 out of her maiden victory back in November 2020.

Two races later, she won the Anne Arundel County Stakes at Laurel Park, the first of her what is now seven stakes wins. The DelCap was her first in graded company. The winner’s share will push her past the $860,000 mark in career earnings with 10 wins from 22 career starts.

Miss Leslie entered the DelCap on a two-race win streak. Last time out, in the local prep for this event, the $150,000 Obeah Stakes, she ran down Battle Bling late despite ducking out badly in the lane.

There was no such drama today.

“It feels great, feels awesome,” winning rider Angel Cruz said. “Claudio trusted me with this filly the whole time. Claudio had her ready.”

Let’s Cruise, with local star Carol Cedeno in the irons, was away quickly to establish the front as the field ran past the wire for the first time. Let’s Cruise led through a half-mile in 48.49 seconds, and she held that one-length advantage after three quarters in 1:13.73.

Bees and Honey, just to the outside, was a length back at both of those points of call, with Miss Leslie outside, out of danger, and two lengths back.

Cruz got four-year-old Miss Leslie, a Paynter filly, in gear rounding the far turn, and she came calling three wide. Bees and Honey, between horses, couldn’t go with her; neither could Let’s Cruise.

Neither, as it turned out, could anyone else.

“She just kept going. I hit her just twice,” Cruz said. “She just galloped. I looked back, and I was homefree.”

Miss Leslie was 12 lengths clear at the wire, with Battle Bling grabbing second, three parts of a length in front of 29-1 outsider Tonal Vision. Miss Leslie paid $5.80 to win as the 9-5 favorite, and the exacta returned $6.40 for a one-dollar wager.

Cruz has been aboard Miss Leslie for nine consecutive starts. He’s gotten his picture taken after six of those.

“When you get to ride those kind of good fillies,” Cruz said, “you just got to hang on and go from there.”

A win like this gets you thinking about hunting bigger game, Gonzalez allowed. But he didn’t want to get ahead of himself.

“You’ve got to think about that, but, you know, step-by-step,” he said. “You see how she comes back and how she’s doing, and then we can decide what we’re going to do.”

NOTES In the top race of the undercard, Key Biscayne scored a stunning 36-1 upset in the Grade 3 Robert Dick Memorial Stakes going 11 furlongs over soft turf. Running time was 2:25.59. Key Biscayne is trained by Juan Alvarado for Arindel… Tax made his first start in nearly 18 months a winning one and pushed his career bankroll past $1 million with a two-length win in the $100,000 Battery Park Stakes. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche was in the irons for trainer Danny Gargan… Handle on the eight-race card was nearly $2.7 million…