Salute the Sarge and Leonides, separated by a nose in the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) on July 4, clash once more in the $150,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) for 2-year-olds at Del Mar Sunday.
Trainer Vladimir Cerin, whose Leonides came up on the short end of the Hollywood Park photo last month, thinks that maiden winner Slam Slew will also be formidable in the 6 1/2-furlong Best Pal.
“He looks like the horse to beat," Cerin said of the Richard Mandella trainee Slam Slew. "It looks like he’s just a bit better than the rest of us. But you never know until you try.”
Slam Slew broke his maiden in a sharp effort June 30 at Hollywood Park.
Cerin believes his colt, to be ridden once again by Joe Talamo, has room to move up on the Polytrack.
“He’s trained quite well and he seems to be improving," Cerin said. "He was a little unlucky in the Hollywood race. He went behind horses at a critical time, but I think he’s a little more mature now and will run a little straighter.”
Leonides is named for the Spartan king who fought the invading Persian army of Xerxes at Thermopylae in one of history’s greatest last stands.
He might need that kind of grit against Salute the Sarge and four other juvenile prospects. The Best Pal is Del Mar's top prep race for the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) Sept. 5, the final day of the 43-day meet.
Salute the Sarge, perfect in two starts for trainer Eric Guillot, worked three furlongs in 37 seconds flat the morning of Aug. 8. Michael Baze rides again. Under Baze, the bay colt by Forest Wildcat surged between rivals nearing the eighth pole and won in a gutty effort over Leonides in the final strides.
Leonides angled wide on the course by Talamo for the stretch run, closed from sixth with a quarter-mile to run, and had the lead 100 yards from the finish line.
“I was very happy with our horse,” Cerin said afterward. “We only had 18 days between races, and I couldn’t really do enough with him to prepare him for the race. He was a little green out of the gate and during the race, but he almost got there. The winner ran super, and he just out-finished him.”
Georgie Boy, who broke his maiden in style in the Graduation Stakes for California-breds July 25, will tackle open company in the Best Pal, as will third-place Graduation finisher Mix. Georgie Boy blew out three furlongs Wednesday in :35 3/5.
Sky Cape, a winner at first asking prior to finishing eighth in the Hollywood Juvenile, rounds out the field.--Jack Shinar
$150,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), 2-Year-Olds, 6 1/2 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Salute the Sarge (KY), 123, Michael C. Baze
2. Mix (CA), 117, Corey S. Nakatani
3. Sky Cape (KY), 119, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
4. Slam Slew (KY), 119, Victor Espinoza
5. Leonides (KY), 119, Joseph Talamo
6. Georgie Boy (CA), 123, Mike E. Smith