The Irish-bred gelding heads a quality field of eight for this year's Shoemaker, which also features the March 1 Frank Kilroe Mile Handicap (gr. IT) winner Ever a Friend and the popular 9-year-old gelding Perfect Drift, now on the comeback trail for new trainer Richard Mandella.
Trained by Dan Hendricks, Daytona captured the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) in his last start on the Inglewood lawn Nov. 25. That was the second of a four-race graded stakes winning streak for the 4-year-old Indian Ridge gelding.
"We're not going to change Daytona's style now," Hendricks said. "He should be on or near the lead. He's on tilt and ready to go."
The only blemish in his last six starts came on a yielding turf course when he faltered late to finish a close third in the nine-furlong Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) at the Fair Grounds in March. He bounced back last time out in the Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) while traveling the Shoemaker distance at Santa Anita Park April 5.
Daytona, who has won seven of 14 lifetime starts for earnings of $781,390, must overcome the outside post position under Alex Solis.
Ever a Friend has won back-to-back stakes since being claimed for $62,500 in December, the most recent coming in the Kilroe Handicap at Santa Anita in March.
Trainer Mike Mitchell is looking for another major score in the male turf division. Besides the Kilroe victory, he sent out Big Booster to win the San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) and On the Acorn to grab the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) in the past couple of months.
"I got him in a seven-way shake," Mitchell said of the gray gelding by Crafty Friend. "After the first two or three days that I had him, I knew he was something special. He does everything right. He's a trainer's dream."
Hyperbaric, who finished a neck behind Daytona in a game closing effort in the Arcadia, is back for more. Julio Canani, who has saddled three Shoemaker winners, sends out the Prestonwood Farm 5-year-old Sky Classic gelding, beaten a nose in his start prior to the Arcadia.
Those most recent tries for Hyperbaric, who began his career with three consecutive wins, came after a 14-month layoff.
Perfect Drift, third behind War Emblem in the 2002 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with Eddie Delahoussaye up, begins the latest comeback of his 46-race career. He could give Mandella and Victor Espinoza consecutive wins in the Shoemaker. They combined to win with 9-year-old The Tin Man in 2007.
"He's been doing fabulous,” Mandella said. “Like most good horses, he has developed a lot of character through the years."
Perfect Drift, an 11-time winner with $4.6 million in earnings, has not raced since July 8. His previous trainer, Murray Johnson, retired six months ago, and owner William Reed called Mandella.
"He gave me instructions, 'if the horse acted like he wanted to do it, go ahead. If not, retire him,'" Mandella said. "The way he's doing now, he acts like he wants to go to work."
Perfect Drift has raced eight times on grass with two wins.
The deep Shoemaker lineup also includes the 2007 runner-up in grade II winner Get Funky, fourth in his comeback race, the 1 1/16-mile Inglewood Handicap (gr. IIIT), May 3.
“He’s had his prep race and is coming into the Shoemaker in good shape,” trainer John Sadler said. “The Shoemaker is always a good field. With Daytona in there, Get Funky will probably be stalking like he did last year. Ever a Friend is probably the horse to beat.”
Bobby Frankel will send out a pair of 4-year-old outsiders: Mast Track, coming off an allowance victory, and Thousand Words, fifth in both the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) on dirt and the Commonwealth Stakes (gr. II) on Keeneland's Polytrack in his two most recent starts.
Notional makes his second start since returning from Dubai.
$250,000 Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT, Race 9, 5:20 p.m.), 3 & Up (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Perfect Drift (KY), Victor Espinoza
2. Mast Track (KY), Jose Valdivia, Jr.
3. Ever a Friend (KY), Tyler Baze
4. Get Funky (FL), Michael C. Baze
5. Notional (CA), Corey S. Nakatani
6. Thousand Words (GB), David R. Flores
7. Hyperbaric (KY), Rafael Bejarano
8. Daytona (IRE), Alex O. Solis
Each assigned 124 pounds.