Evening Jewel, perfect in two starts on the turf, attempts to register her second grade I victory of the season when she faces a solid field in the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks on the grass Aug. 21 at the seaside track.
The versatile 3-year-old filly is actually just two nose losses to nemesis Blind Luck from going after her sixth consecutive win and fourth grade I in the Del Mar Oaks.
Blind Luck is at Saratoga this weekend to run in the Betfair TVG Alabama Stakes (gr. I). But Evening Jewel figures to have a tough fight on her hands anyway in the 1 1/8-mile grass event for 3-year-old fillies.
Ten were entered, including American Oaks (gr. IT) winner Harmonious and Canadian shipper Perfect Shirl, winner of Saratoga's Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) in her last start. The Del Mar Oaks is the ninth race on the program with a 6 p.m. PDT post time.
Evening Jewel captured the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) on Polytrack, missed by a nose to Blind Luck in the prestigious Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) in her only try on dirt, and has won the Honeymoon (gr. IIT) and the San Clemente (gr. IIT) handicaps in her last two starts on grass. James Cassidy, who trains the California-bred daughter of Northern Afleet for the Braly Family Trust, can't decide if she has a favorite surface.
"You know, if you put a gun to my head, I'd say all three to you," Cassidy said. "I mean, I'm not trying to be smart, but she has impressed me on all three. She did improve from the Honeymoon to the San Clemente on the grass, which, I'd like to see a second time if they improve a little bit on the grass. But she pretty much runs hard on everything. I'm keeping her on the grass right now, but we'll see what happens in the future."
Cassidy said he was planning to move Evening Jewel to the turf earlier in the year, but her neck win in Keeneland's Ashland April 3 made him change direction.
"I was heading to a couple of turf races at Hollywood Park and then we kind of shifted sticks and Tom (Braly) and I, we talked about it," he said. "And we made a move, 'Let's go to the Ashland. She trains pretty good on this synthetic. Let's see how she handles that.'
"And, of course, after we won the Ashland (and) everybody and their brother says well, you've got to go to the (Kentucky) Oaks. You've got to give it a go. So that's really what stopped us from getting on the grass earlier on. And now here, of course, most of the 3-year-old filly races are grass races, so here we are. And I couldn't be happier."
Evening Jewel blew out three furlongs in :36 2/5 on the Del Mar turf course Aug. 18.
"We tried to slow her down but it wasn't happening," Cassidy said. "She's doing so well now, it's beginning to scare me a bit."
There is not much speed in the lineup, which means Evening Jewel could attempt to dictate terms and hold off the closers late. Victor Espinoza retains the ride, and they will break from post four.
Evening Jewel won the one-mile San Clemente on the course by three-quarters of a length, holding well after taking the lead in the stretch. Second-place finisher City to City is missing this one, but third-place finisher Weekend Magic, who closed much ground in the lane, is back for more, as is fourth-place finisher Crisp, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) this spring on the Pro-Ride track.
The likely favorite will also get her first look at American Oaks winner Harmonious, a Pam and Marty Wygod homebred. The daughter of Dynaformer is on a three-race winning streak for trainer John Shirreffs. She captured the 1 1/4-mile Oaks impressively with a three-wide move in the stretch by 1 1/4 lengths over Antares World, who is also in the Del Mar Oaks field.
Myung Kwan Cho's Weekend Magic, who also ran third in the American Oaks, worked a solid :37 2/5 on turf for three furlongs Aug. 18.
Charles Fipke's homebred Perfect Shirl heads west after her three-quarters-of-a-length upset at 9-1 odds in the Lake George, which was her stakes debut. Trained by Roger Attfield, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Perfect Soul is also on a three-race winning streak. She has spent most of her 3-year-old campaign at Woodbine, where she was ridden by Chantal Sutherland, who makes the trip as well.
Irish-bred Berg Bahn, trained by Gerard Lyons and in the hands of traveling lad Shane Lyons, the trainer's brother, will make her first United States start. She won the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Brownstown Stakes (Ire-III) at seven furlongs at Fairyhouse in her most recent outing June 30 at 14-1 odds. Alex Solis returns to Southern California to ride.
A second European, British-bred Distinctive, won the six-furlong Firth of Clyde Stakes (Eng-III) by nearly four lengths for trainer Bryan Smart as a 2-year-old at Scotland's Ayr Racecourse. Fifth of 17 in the Stanjames.com One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I) in May, she ran fourth in the Brownstown Stakes last time out. Brice Blanc has the call.
$300,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. I, Race 9, 6 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Berg Bahn (IRE), A O Solis, G M Lyons
2. Antares World (CA), F T Alvarado, S Specht
3. Perfect Shirl (KY), C Sutherland, R L Attfield
4. Evening Jewel (CA), V Espinoza, J M Cassidy
5. Distinctive (GB), B Blanc, B Smart
6. Harmonious (KY), M E Smith, J A Shirreffs
7. It Tiz (KY), D R Flores, M Glatt
8. Weekend Magic (KY), A Quinonez, M K Cho
9. Crisp (KY), R Bejarano, J W Sadler
10. Warren's Jitterbug (CA), P A Valenzuela, J Gutierrez
All carry 122 pounds.