River's Prayer, a half-length winner of the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) at Calder Race Course in her last start July 7, brings a four-race victory streak into the $200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III) for fillies and mares sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs on the Del Mar Polytrack Aug. 17.
The Paula Capestro trainee could be the one to beat in the seven-horse field, although the three-time grade I winner Pussycat Doll will also attract much backing. Trained by Bob Baffert, Pussycat Doll attempts to atone for a sixth-place finish as the odds-on choice in the A Gleam Handicap (gr. II) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track in her last start July 6.
Michael Pegram's Pussycat Doll was assigned 122 pounds, one more than River's Prayer, who is owned by Capestro in partnership with Bantry Farms and Martin Racing Stable.
River's Prayer is an unknown on the Polytrack, having never competed on a synthetic surface in 15 lifetime tries. In the six-furlong Princess Rooney, contested on a "good" Calder main track, the 4-year-old California-bred gray daughter of Devon Lane fought head and head with Shaggy Mane for the lead before prevailing by a half-length at odds of 11-1. Her current win streak includes taking the Las Cienegas (gr. III) at Santa Anita on the hillside course at 6 1/2 furlongs April 15, and the one-mile Great Lady M on the Hollywood Park grass two months later. Among her eight victories, four have come on the turf (in five attempts).
A lifetime winner of $801,958, River's Prayer will be ridden once again by Clinton Potts.
Joseph Talamo replaces regular rider Garrett Gomez aboard Pussycat Doll, who caved in chasing Somethinaboutlaura after stalking a strong pace in the seven-furlong A Gleam, her first start on a synthetic track. The lightly raced 5-year-old daughter of Real Quiet has had two other starts this year. She began the season with a four-length win in the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita in January, but then was beaten by four lengths by Hystericalady as the even-money choice in Churchill Downs' Humana Distaff (gr. I) on May 5, a race Pussycat Doll won in 2006. Her other grade I win came in the 2005 La Brea as a 3-year-old at Santa Anita.
Pussycat Doll has won six of 13 starts lifetime with earnings of $722,583.
Those two appear to be standouts in the Rancho Bernardo.
The Jeff Mullins-conditioned 6-year-old mare Strong Faith finished second in the A Gleam, three-quarters of a length behind Somethinaboutlaura. She was a close third to River's Prayer in the Las Cienegas but hasn't been to the winner's circle in seven starts this year. Mullins also trains the Virginia-bred Candy Jo, who was ninth in the A Gleam but previously won back-to-back allowance tests on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track.
After finishing more than seven lengths behind River's Prayer in the Las Cienegas, Red Diadem has won her only start since, taking the five-furlong Daisy Cutter on the Del Mar grass July 26. The 4-year-old Great Britain-bred filly broke her maiden on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track in November. She won three of her last four starts for trainer Ben Cecil.
Cal-bred Lady Gamer steps up significantly off a three-race winning streak for John Sadler, her last race a 2 1/4-length win in the Valkyr Handicap at Hollywood June 24.
$200,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap (gr. III, Race 7, 6:30 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 3 & Up, 6 1/2 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Candy Jo (VA), 114, Brice Blanc
2. Bettarun Fast (FL), 114, Michael C. Baze
3. Red Diadem (GB), 115, Victor Espinoza
4. Lady Gamer (CA), David R. Flores
5. Pussycat Doll (KY), 122, Joseph Talamo
6. River's Prayer (CA), 121, Clinton L. Potts
7. Strong Faith (KY), 115, Martin Garcia