Saturday’s 1 3/8-mile Del Mar Handicap (GIIT) is one of the oldest stakes races conducted at the seaside oval and this year a field of 13 was entered in hopes of not only collecting the winner’s share of the $250,000, but also earning a spot in the gate for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (GIT) on Nov. 4, as it’s a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” event.
While not a hotbed for tons of champions, the race boasts a respectable list of previous winners, like Native Diver, Quicken Tree, Ancient Title and Precisionist. This year, the winners of the last three editions are all back for another crack, as well as a slew of talented new shooters looking to make Racing’s Championship Day for their connections.
Ashleyluvssugar won this race a year ago before winning the John Henry Turf (GIT) and finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. In five starts since, he has two wins, two seconds and a third in stakes company. Back for more, the Pete Eurton-trained son of Game Plan has been training well and his figures overall put him in the hunt to pick up another win with his typical mid-pack trip under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.
Hunt is coming off a mild upset and a career-best performance in his one-length victory in the nine-furlong Eddie Read Stakes (GIIT) last out. He had been mostly sprinting and staying on Santa Anita’s downhill course for his best performances, but after his last where he closed into a decent pace after a mid-pack trip to win with room to spare, trainer Phil D’Amato thinks the Mike House-owned gelding may actually be better suited to longer distances.
Flavien Prat, who returns after their last win together, has said the horse has a lot of heart and should like the extra ground. The pair break from post 11, which is perfect since Hunt prefers to be outside of horses and not buried down near the rail. He will attempt to become the first horse in a decade to complete the Eddie Read-Del Mar Handicap double.
Itsinthepost won a pair of graded stakes this spring before faltering in his last two with a pair of fifth-place finishes at Santa Anita and Monmouth Park. Now, away from action for seven weeks, the Jeff Mullins-trained French-bred has been training well at Del Mar, and posted a nice bullet workout last weekend. He is bred for the distance and has been successful going farther. All he needs is one of his typical consistent performances under Tyler Baze to earn a larger portion of the purse.
House and D’Amato’s other runner, Big John B, won this race in 2014 and 2015 and, after nearly a year off, came back to a mixed bag of results mostly on the dirt this year. Back on the turf and on his favorite course, the now 8-year-old may improve under new jockey Corey Nakatani.
Inordinate won the San Juan Capistrano (GIIT) at Santa Anita in April after being privately purchased late last year. He has some good performances, but this race is by far the deepest he’s faced. Rafael Bejarano picks up the mount on the Richard Baltas-trained son of Harlan’s Holiday and his best makes him dangerous for a very hot trainer.
Liam The Charmer, Editore, Monster Bea, Flamboyant, He Will, Up With The Birds, Mr. Roary and Prime Attraction complete the order of finish.