After exchanging tight decisions in two recent starts this spring, Fire With Fire and Quick Casablanca clash for a third time in the $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 23 on the Del Mar turf.
Twelve older horses, with one also eligible, are entered in the 1 3/8-mile event, a Breeders' Cup "Win & You're In" qualifying race for the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park. With the portable rail set at 12 feet, the Del Mar Handicap is the eighth race on the Saturday card with a 5:30 p.m. PDT scheduled post. Given the up-and-down nature of the Southern California turf division this year, this figures to be a wide open affair.
Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale enters David Heerensperger's Fire With Fire, who has quickly ascended the ranks with wins in three of his past four starts. However, the 6-year-old Distorted Humor gelding has not been out since winning the Charles Whittingham Stakes (gr. IIT) May 24 at Santa Anita, in which he came from off the pace to score by a neck with Quick Casablanca half a length behind.
In his previous start, Fire With Fire lost by a head to Quick Casablanca in the 1 1/8-mile Last Tycoon (gr. IIIT) after setting pace. He went gate-to-wire to capture the San Luis Rey (gr. IIIT) at 12 furlongs by half a length in March.
Fire With Fire ran fifth in last year's Del Mar Handicap. Tyler Baze has been the rider for the gray during the gelding's resurgence and he has the call once more on the 123-pound highweight. They have post 11.
Drysdale also enters 4-year-old filly Topic, who finished second in the Robert G. Dick Memorial (gr. IIIT) in her most recent start at Delaware Park, but was disqualified to ninth for drifting out in the stretch.
Chilean-bred Quick Casablanca upset the April 25 Last Tycoon at odds of 16-1, then was favored in the Whittingham, in which he put in a stern rally to just miss. The Ron McAnally-trained 6-year-old has had one start since, finishing second in the San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIT) at 7-10 odds June 29. Joe Talamo is aboard the son of Until Showdown, who gets four pounds from Fire With Fire.
One who could be dangerous here is California-bred Bench Light.
The 5-year-old son of Benchmark, trained by Mike Pender for a partnership that claimed him for $40,000 May 31, has never run in a graded stakes. But in his most recent start, an allowance/optional claiming race July 24, he won by 6 1/4 lengths at the Del Mar Handicap's 11-furlong distance. He was timed in 2:11.34, just a tick off the course mark of 2:11.14 set by Spring House in the 2008 Del Mar 'Cap. Kent Desormeaux rides.
Another to watch off the step-up in class is Michael House' Big John B, on a three-race win streak for trainer Phil D'Amato. The 5-year-old Hard Spun gelding also comes off an allowance/optional claiming romp at 1 3/8 miles, as the odds-on favorite by 7 1/4 lengths. He was timed in 2:12.84. Mike Smith stays aboard.
D'Amato also enters Bright Thought, winner of last year's San Luis Rey but slumping in six tries since finishing last in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT). He was third in the one-mile Wickerr Stakes last time out over the course.
Unbridled Command may be ready to take a step forward in his third start following a layoff of more than 16 months for trainer Peter Miller. The 5-year-old son of Master Command, fifth last time in Del Mar's Eddie Read (gr. IT) July 20, adds blinkers and will be guided once more by Elvis Trujillo.
Miller will also saddle Poshsky for his stakes debut after consecutive allowance/optional claiming wins.
Irish Surf, fourth in the Whittingham in his most recent turf effort, demolished the Cougar II (gr. III) field in front-running fashion by 8 1/4 lengths July 25 for trainer Dan Hendricks. The victory in the 1 1/2-mile Polytrack test was the 4-year-old Giant's Causeway colt's third in 18 lifetime starts.
Starspangled Heat, Si Sage, and Cogito complete the field. Ice Cream Truck must draw in.
Del Mar, Saturday, August 23, 2014, Race 8
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Topic (KY) Fernando Hernandez Perez 112 Neil D. Drysdale - 2 2Poshsky (CA) Drayden Van Dyke 114 Peter Miller - 98 3Irish Surf (KY) SCRATCHED 0 UNKNOWN - 3 4Big John B (FL) Mike E. Smith 118 Philip D'Amato - 4 5Bright Thought (KY) Rafael Bejarano 118 Philip D'Amato - 5 6Starspangled Heat (CA) Edwin A. Maldonado 116 Barry Abrams - 6 7Si Sage (FR) Corey S. Nakatani 117 Darrell Vienna - 7 8Bench Light (CA) Kent J. Desormeaux 114 Michael Pender - 8 9Quick Casablanca (CHI) Joseph Talamo 119 Ronald L. McAnally - 9 10Unbridled Command (NY) Elvis Trujillo 118 Peter Miller - 10 11Fire With Fire (KY) Tyler Baze 123 Neil D. Drysdale - 11 12Cogito (VA) Mario Gutierrez 114 Edward R. Freeman - 12 13Ice Cream Truck (KY) Tiago Josue Pereira 113 A. C. Avila -
Del Mar, Saturday, August 23, 2014, Race 8