"I think he's back to his old self," the trainer said of the 4-year-old. "He's feeling great and he's training great. I ran him back too quick last time. It was my fault."
The Irish-bred Daytona, who had won six of seven starts prior to the American, is the slight morning-line favorite at odds of 5-2 in the 10-horse field. The Del Mar Mile is one of four "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge races on the Pacific Classic program, with the winner earning a slot in the $2-million Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. I) Oct. 25 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet.
The first three finishers in the nine-furlong Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT)—in order, Monzante, Whatsthescript, and Storm Military—as well as Wickerr Handicap winner One Union make this an outstanding supporting feature for the $1-million Pacific Classic (gr. I).
In the 1 1/8-mile American Daytona pulled early to keep up with pacesetter Storm Military. The pace duel took its toll in the lane when Daytona gave way and faded to sixth. Whatsthescript inhaled the leaders in deep stretch en route to a 1 1/4-length victory.
In 16 starts, it was only the third time the ultra-consistent Daytona had failed to finish in the money.
Hendricks said that he expected Daytona, who carries high weight of 121 pounds, to be right where he always seems to be. "We don't plan to take back. If he's not on the lead, he'll be right on top of them."
Teamed once more with Alex Solis, they drew post 8 for Daytona's return.
Besides Storm Military, Daytona can expect a tussle on the front end from One Union, who won a five-horse blanket finish in the Wickerr.
"He's worked his way up, and I think he deserves a chance like this," said Richard Mandella, who trains the 5-year-old Dixie Union horse for Herman Sarkowsky. "He's doing well, and now we'll see if he's good enough. It will take a lot of beating to beat Dan's horse."
Mandella said One Union inherited the lead in the one-mile Wickerr when no one seemed to want it. The dark bay turned back numerous challengers in deep stretch to win a race in which two noses separated the first three finishers. Awesome Gem, who will be running in the Pacific Classic, was second with Del Mar Mile rival Dark Islander finishing third in his return to U.S. racing for Neil Drysdale. The Del Mar Mile also drew fifth-place Wickerr finisher Stoneside, who lost by just a neck, and Porto Santo, who was sixth.
Monzante and Whatsthescript motored down the stretch in the Eddie Read, with Monzante prevailing by a half-length. Phil D'Amato, assistant to trainer Mike Mitchell, said Monzante can be expected to drop well back of the field and then make his patented one big run.
One run is the key to Whatsthescript's success as well. Trainer John Sadler has no intention of changing his stalking style.
"He's been training unbelievably, and he's had two good races," the trainer said. "The mile is a good distance for him, and a quick pace will help him. He'll be sitting right behind the pace, and Garrett (Gomez) will decide from there."
Bold Chieftain captured the California Dreamin' Handicap over state-breds on the Del Mar turf Aug. 2 and has won four of his past five starts. Rounding out the field is Global Hunter, most recently sixth in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) on the main track.
$400,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Mile Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 6 p.m.), 3 & Up (Turf)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, ML Odds
1. Porto Santo (FR), 114, Tyler Baze, 20/1
2. Dark Islander (IRE), 114, Joel Rosario, 12/1
3. Storm Military (ARG), 115, David R. Flores, 3/1
4. Whatsthescript (IRE), 117, Garrett K. Gomez, 3/1
5. Bold Chieftain (CA), 118, Russell A. Baze, 8/1
6. Global Hunter (ARG), 114, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 30/1
7. One Union (KY), 117, Victor Espinoza, 15/1
8. Daytona (IRE), 121, Alex O. Solis, 5/2
9. Stoneside (IRE), 116, Mike E. Smith, 15/1
10. Monzante (KY), 118, Rafael Bejarano, 7/2
11. Willow O Wisp (FL), 111, Brice Blanc, 30/1