The Best Pal, contested at 6 1/2 furlongs over the Polytrack racing surface, is the major local stakes event leading up to the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) on closing day Sept. 3.
Doug O'Neill, who saddles Azul Leon, seeks his first win in the Best Pal. The bay colt, bred in Kentucky by his owner, Joseph LaCombe Stables, has two victories so far, both over the Hollywood Park Cushion Track. He had to overcome a poor start to win the six-furlong Juvenile Championship July 5 as the 11-10 choice in a field of eight.
The LaCombes campaigned Favorite Trick, who was the Horse of the Year and champion 2-year-old colt in 1997, when he was undefeated in eight races and captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Hollywood.
Ridden in each of his starts by leading Del Mar jockey Rafael Bejarano, Azul Leon bobbled at the break and was last a quarter-mile into the Hollywood Juvenile Championship. Azul Leon advanced on the turn, however, and launched a five-wide bid into the stretch, propelling to an easy victory while drifting inward after getting the lead. He completed the distance in 1:10.88.
Azul Leon broke his maiden by a head over Cut the Check, closing three lengths from the eighth pole in a 4 1/2-furlong heat at Hollywood May 8.
Produced from the Cure the Blues mare Quick Blue, a dual stakes winner in Canada, Azul Leon has career earnings of $92,400. He'll break from post 9 with Bejarano aboard once more.
Azul Leon is the only Best Pal entrant with a victory over winners.
Of the others, Captain Steel, an impressive 7 1/4-length maiden winner as the favorite in his second start at Hollywood Park July 13, could draw the most attention. Jeff Mullins trains the Kentucky-bred chestnut son of Hennessy, who ran fifth in his debut.
Darley Stable will be represented by Coronet of a Baron, a son of Pure Prize who won his debut in front-running style at Arlington Park July 6 for trainer Eoin Harty.
Rancho San Miguel's Miguel's Mascot has a win over the Del Mar surface, tallying smartly by 2 1/4 lengths over state-bred maidens going 5 1/2 furlongs July 16. Eric Kruljac trains the Marino Marini colt.
O'Neill also enters Robert LaPenta's S.S. Stone, a son of Birdstone who won his his only start June 29 by one length at Hollywood.
Others coming into the Best Pal with last-race maiden scores are Charlie's Moment, Fu Peg He Rat, and Kelly Leak.
$150,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. III, Race i, 5:30 p.m.), 2-Year-Olds, 6 1/2 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Captain Steel (KY), 117, Clinton L. Potts
2. S. S. Stone (KY), 117, Garrett K. Gomez
3. Miguel's Mascot (CA), 123, David R. Flores
4. Fu Peg He Rat (KY), 117, Tyler Baze
5. Coronet of a Baron (FL), 117, Corey S. Nakatani
6. Fiery Rebel (KY), 117, Martin Garcia
7. Turbo Call (CA), 117, Julio A. Garcia
8. Charlie's Moment (FL), 117, Jon K. Court
9. Azul Leon (KY), 123, Rafael Bejarano
10. Kelly Leak (FL), 117, Victor Espinoza