Sporting Art, a $40,000 claim by trainer Mike Mitchell this spring in New Jersey, could land a Breeders' Cup berth when he makes his first California start for his new connections in the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 29.
Mitchell claimed Sporting Art off Christophe Clement at Monmouth Park in June and the 5-year-old son of Doneraile Court found the winner's circle in his next start, beating an optional claiming allowance group at 1 1/16 miles on the Monmouth turf July 17. That was Sporting Art's first win since he captured the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) and Calder Derby (gr. IIIT) in succession in Florida as a 3-year-old in March and April of 2008.
Now owned by Dan Capen and partners, Sporting Art began his career in Great Britain and has raced once previously in California, finishing fifth in a salty allowance event at Hollywood Park last November. Mitchell claimed him in his next start, which came seven months later.
Sporting Art's career has been punctuated by a couple of lengthy layoffs, but he is the kind of veteran that Mitchell has excelled with over the years. Mitchell won back-to-back renewals of the Del Mar Handicap with former claimers Star Over the Bay and Leprechaun Kid in 2004 and 2005.
This year's 1 3/8-mile Del Mar Handicap attracted a field of 10, including four who raced in Hollywood Park's closing-day Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT). The race, which carries an automatic berth in the $3 million Emirates Airline Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs for the winner, is the eighth on the program with a 5:30 p.m. PDT post.
In his most recent start Aug. 7, Sporting Art finished fourth in an optional claimer on the Monmouth turf Aug. 7. This will be the Kentucky-bred bay gelding's first start at the 11-furlong distance. Mike Smith will be aboard.
The 118-pound high weight in the evenly-matched Del Mar Handicap field is Unusual Suspect, who is also entered in the $1 million Pacific Classic Presented by TVG (gr. I) a day earlier. Trainer Barry Abrams had not made a decision on which way to go as of Aug. 26. Unusual Suspect, a 6-year-old California-bred son of Unusual Heat, is the only other graded stakes winner in the field. That victory came in the Hollywood Turf Express Handicap (gr. IIIT) in November 2007.
Unusual Suspect ran third in the Sunset and is coming off a second in the July 30 Cougar II Handicap (gr. III), a 1 1/2-mile Polytrack race he won in 2009 when it was not graded. That is the only win for the dark bay horse in 18 starts over the past two years. Overall, Unusual Suspect has an 8-7-5 mark in 50 races with earnings of $842,850. Martin Pedroza would ride from post 10.
Other horses that competed in the 1 1/2-mile Sunset are Champ Pegasus, Dynamic Range, and Buenos Dias.
Champ Pegasus ran second in the Sunset, just one length behind Marlang in an encouraging stakes debut. Owned by Diamond A Racing, the 4-year-old son of Fusaichi Pegasus has won twice in six starts and is trained by Richard Mandella. The Hall of Fame conditioner also entered Worth Repeating, a 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway making his stakes bow for Spendthrift Farm.
In addition to Sporting Art, Mitchell trains Dynamic Range, who was fourth in the Sunset and returned to win an optional claiming event over the course at the 1 3/8-mile distance Aug. 12 for Indizguys Stable. Mitchell claimed the 4-year-old Dynaformer gelding for $40,000 in May.
The Irish-bred Buenos Dias, trained by Ron McAnally for owner Charles Cella, was fifth in the Sunset, which was his most recent start. Buenos Dias won an optional claiming race at 12 furlongs on the Hollywood lawn by more than two lengths prior to the Sunset.
Michael Tabor's Falcon Rock ran third to Buenos Dias as the odds-on choice in that June 10 race and was second to Acclamation in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) in May. Trainer Simon Callaghn adds blinkers this time.
Soul Candy makes his stakes debut for Paddy Gallagher off back-to-back optional claiming wins, including a one-length triumph over the course at 11 furlongs July 22.
Jay Em Ess Stable's Megastar has two wins and four seconds in his past six starts and is also making his initial stakes try for trainer Ron Ellis.
$200,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Falcon Rock (IRE), A Quinonez, 114, S Callaghan
2. Sporting Art (KY), M E Smith, 115, M R Mitchell
3. Megastar (KY), V Espinoza, 115, R W Ellis
4. Soul Candy (CA), C S Nakatani, 114, P Gallagher
5. Buenos Dias (IRE), B Blanc, 116, R L McAnally
6. Dynamic Range (KY), M Garcia, 114, M R Mitchell
7. Champ Pegasus (KY), J Rosario, 114, R E Mandella
8. Worth Repeating (KY), R Bejarano, 114, R E Mandella
9. Red Eye Express (IRE), P A Valenzuela, 115, N D Drysdale
10. Unusual Suspect (CA), M A Pedroza, 118, B Abrams
Blinkers On: Falcon Rock (IRE)