At this time last summer, future Kentucky Derby and Preakness star I'll Have Another finished a solid runner-up in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes in his second career start. The same connections -- owner J. Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O'Neill -- are back with another promising youngster in Sunday's renewal of the $150,000 Best Pal at Del Mar. But their current contender, Know More, has yet to race, and will be making an audacious career debut.
Rivals who have followed a more typical path to the Best Pal include Scherer Magic, winner of the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship, and Amarish, the beaten favorite behind Scherer Magic last time. Trainer Peter Miller, on the other hand, is also thinking outside the box by entering a pair of fillies, Cinderella heroine Miss Empire and debut winner Heir Kitty, and Eric Guillot will send out the once-raced maiden Moreno.
Know More was purchased for $210,000 at Barretts in May, just nine days after I'll Have Another's victory at Churchill Downs. The Lion Heart colt is a half-brother to Classical Slew, who had been a precocious two-year-old for O'Neill. In 2009, Classical Slew captured the Willard Proctor Memorial and finished third in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship before tiring to fifth in the Best Pal. Know More hopes to eclipse his half-brother Sunday, when he will team up with Garrett Gomez from the outside post 8.
Scherer Magic will try to preserve his unbeaten record. The gelded son of Doneraile Court was claimed for $50,000 out of his 7 1/4-length debut romp at Hollywood Park on June 14, and in his first start for John Sadler, he rallied to a 2 1/2-length decision in the July 14 Hollywood Juvenile Championship. Joe Talamo, who has been aboard for both starts, will be back in the saddle.
As smart as Scherer Magic looked, it's worth noting that 2-5 favorite Amarish threw in a too-bad-to-be-true clunker when fading to sixth in the Juvenile Championship. The Scat Daddy gelding had dominated his first two outings, both in fast time, including the June 16 Willard Proctor. Amarish appears to have the best early foot in this 6 1/2-furlong dash, and is eligible to keep going with Edwin Maldonado.
No filly has ever won the Best Pal, so Miller's uncoupled duo will aim to make history. Miss Empire, an Empire Maker half-sister to Grade 1-winning sprinter Bordonaro, is the more accomplished of the pair. She broke her maiden by a resounding 4 3/4 lengths in the June 16 Cinderella, then settled for third behind Bob Baffert's highly-regarded Executiveprivilege in the July 14 Landaluce. Stablemate Heir Kitty impressed in her debut success over the Hollywood turf on July 8, and switches surfaces on the class hike.
The well-bred Moreno was arguably unlucky not to break his maiden at first asking at Hollywood July 1. Bumped and pinched back at the start, the Eric Guillot pupil finished strongly late for third, beaten a total of a half-length by Best Pal foe Heir of Storm. Moreno, a son of Ghostzapper, hails from a superb female line. His second dam is Canadian champion Dancethruthedawn, his third dam is Hall of Famer Dance Smartly, his fourth dam is Canadian champion and noted producer Classy 'n Smart, and his fifth dam is the blue hen No Class.
Rounding out the eight-horse field is K Court, winner of a $100,000 maiden claimer at Santa Anita April 19. Following a fourth to Amarish in the Willard Proctor, and a third in a restricted stakes at Pleasanton July 8, the Doneraile Court colt adds blinkers. As another plus, top Japanese rider Yuichi Fukunaga picks up the mount.