Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf Start a ‘Bonus’ for G1 Winner Dalika
7YO Millionaire Mare Making Swan Song in $500,000 Race Jan. 28
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL — With trainer Al Stall hailing from New Orleans, it’s appropriate that he uses the term ‘lagniappe’ when he discusses the 7-year-old German-bred mare Dalika running in Gulfstream Park’s $500,000 TAA Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf Invitational (G3) presented by Pepsi. After all, the Cajun-French-inspired word, pronounced LAN-yap, means a gift or something extra.
The 1 1/16-mile grass stakes will mark the last race of Dalika’s career, which started out with three races in Europe as a 2-year-old before she was purchased by Paul Varga’s Bal Mar Equine LLC and sent to Stall. In America, Dalika has won nine of 28 races, with six seconds and nearly all of her $1.44 million in earnings.
Dalika’s key race came in the Beverly D. Stakes last July at Churchill Downs, giving her the Grade 1 victory for which she was kept in training in 2022. The Beverly D. was held at Dalika’s home track after the closing of Chicago’s Arlington Park. With the switch, the distance was shortened to 1 1/8 miles over a course playing to speed, with the race having only five starters.
“The whole year was house money,” Stall said by phone from New Orleans. “We stumbled on the Beverly D. Everything was just lagniappe, as we say. [But] we wouldn’t be doing this if she wasn’t just perfectly sound and very happy with herself right now.”
Varga said via text that Dalika’s stallion mating should be finalized in the next couple of weeks and that he’ll be keep his options open whether to keep her or sell.
Dalika has rewarded Varga and Stall well for their patience and gambling on another season of racing after she won her first graded stakes in 2021 at Delaware Park. The result was winning three more graded-stakes — the Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf (G3) following the Beverly D. and Cardinal (G3) Nov. 25 in her last start — and just a few bucks shy of $850,000.
“She’s been an enigma for most of the time,” Stall said. “This last season has been unbelievably gratifying for everybody. We made the conscious decision to keep her in training one more year to take some shots at Grade 1 races and things like that. We gave her a good freshening during the winter and she came back really, really good. To win the Beverly D. was really a fortunate thing for us. And to be able to knock out these big, fat purses since then, it’s just been a great year for her. It makes you feel good about treating a horse properly, giving them a nice break and having them come back and deliver.”
Dalika, who will be ridden for the fifth straight race by Brian Hernandez Jr., has proven most effective racing on the lead.
“The ones they’ve added on to this field, it does seem like there’s some speed in there, horses literally coming out of six-furlong races to go around two turns at this level,” Stall said of the Pegasus F&M Turf. “We’re a front-running type of horse, so that’s going to be interesting to see how that shakes out.
“She just needs to be comfortable. She’s come from off the pace before and won. A lot of races, she’s been rank, and now she’s quite a bit kinder. I just want her to be comfortable, break well,” he added. “You can tell early whether she’s getting over the ground like you’d want a horse to. If it goes that way, that’s all we can ask for — she’ll give it herself the best chance to win. If she’s not comfortable at a new course like Gulfstream, if she gets trapped on the fence with some outside speed, things might not go well.”
Keeping Dalika comfortable is why the mare has spent the last month at an Ocala training center. That not only makes for a much shorter ship to Gulfstream Park the Wednesday before the race, but it’s a quieter environment than Stall’s main winter base of the Fair Grounds. It’s the same reason that when Dalika was in Kentucky, she trained at the Skylight Training Center about 40 minutes from Churchill Downs.
Because she does so much in her daily training, Dalika only sporadically has timed workouts.
“She’s just a horse that’s tough to train,” Stall said. “She’s very, very strong all the time. The gallop person earns their keep every time they get on her. That’s just the way she’s always been. That’s why we keep her in the most tranquil, serene place you could possibly be. Just training on a day-to-day basis, we felt like she’d do herself more harm than good being in all the traffic on a narrow racetrack. We basically keep her all by herself.
“Once she gets fit, there’s not a whole lot to do with her. The Beverly D was her third race off a freshening. All we’ve done literally since is just piddle around,” he added. “She seems to like that, so we’re not changing anything.”