It will not be easy for Mandella to add to his record with Setsuko coming off the bench for the first time since finishing 3 1/2 lengths behind Ron the Greek in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3 of last season. Wertheimer & Frere's homebred 6-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect had just two starts in 2012, the other a Feb. 4 dirt allowance victory at Santa Anita Park.
In 2011 Setsuko was also runner-up in the 'Big Cap,' and in 2010 he was second in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). He has won twice in 18 starts for earnings of $656,486 and broke his maiden on Hollywood's Cushion Track on Dec. 17, 2009. Mandella's seventh—and most recent—Native Diver win came with Olmodavor in 2003.
Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who won the 2012 Native Diver with Game On Dude, looks for another winner in Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman's Drill. The last trainer to win the Native Diver in consecutive years was Mandella, who took three in a row with Gentlemen (1996), Refinado Tom (1997) and Puerto Madero (1998).
Drill, a 4-year-old son of Lawyer Ron, has not won in nine starts since taking the Lazaro Barrera Memorial (gr. III) on May 12, 2012. He finished third of five last time out, in the one-mile Big Bear Stakes at Santa Anita Oct. 31.
Rousing Sermon stretches out for owner-breeders Larry and Marianne Williams and another Hall of Famer, Jerry Hollendorfer, who won this race in 2007 with Heatseeker.
Winner of the Nov. 24 On Trust Stakes going 7 1/2 furlongs against California-bred runners, the 4-year-old Lucky Pulpit colt was runner-up in the Big Bear off a strong Oct. 3 allowance score on the Santa Anita main track. He was runner-up in the 2011 CashCall Futurity (gr. I) and has won five of 23 with earnings of $687,842.
Hollendorfer triples his chances at victory with Hear the Ghost, owned in partnership with Halo Farms, and Blueskiesnrainbows for Bad Boy Racing. It will be the first start for Blueskiesnrainbows since he finished second behind London Bridge in the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Marathon (gr. II).
Bred in Virginia by Edward Evans, the 4-year-old son of English Channel has won five of 21 for a $459,552 bankroll. Two of his wins came at Hollywood, including the 2012 Swaps (gr. II) when he was trained by Baffert.
Lightly raced Hear the Ghost finished second in an optional claimer Nov. 7 in his first start since winning the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) eight months earlier. The 3-year-old Ghostzapper gelding has won twice in four starts with earnings of $232,800.
Slim Shadey will be making his synthetic surface debut in his 32nd lifetime start. Trained by Simon Callaghan for owner-breeder Phil Cunningham, the 5-year-old Val Royal gelding has five wins and earnings of $623,064 on turf.
Soi Phet returns to graded company after finishing fourth in the Big Bear. A California-bred 5-year-old Tizbud gelding, he has five wins in 22 outings. He has picked up most of his $266,526 bankroll and four of the victories since being claimed for $16,000 May 23 by trainer Leonard Powell for a partnership that includes Gerald Benowitz and Sandra Powell.
Like Drill, Mobilized will be trying to end a nine-race losing streak. The 7-year-old son of Soul of the Matter hasn't won for Double JH Stable and the Estate of breeder Robert Reseigne since capturing the Tiznow Stakes by 7 1/4 lengths on April 28, 2012. Mobilized, who has six wins in 31 stars and a bankroll of $427,840, could become the oldest winner in Native Diver history. Seven 6-year-olds have won, with Saint Stephen the most recent in 2006.
Completing the field is Fire With Fire, returning to Southern California for David Heerensperger and Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale after finishing third in the Nov. 29 Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields. Fire With Fire has never competed over Cushion Track.