Powerhouse trainers Doug O'Neill, with three entries, and Bob Baffert, with two, dominate the field of eight entered in the $150,000 Best Pal (gr. II) for 2-year-olds at Del Mar Sunday.Baffert has won the Best Pal, contested at 6 1/2 furlongs, in six of the past eight renewals.While Baffert's most proficient juvenile E Z Warrior is recovering from sore shins that probably will keep him sidelined for the Del Mar meet, the silver-haired trainer will send out Del Mar maiden winner Mr. Negotiator and Hot Flame. The latter is a son of 2000 Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) winner Flame Thrower, who also won the Best Pal for Baffert that year.Two supplementary entries are among those set to go postward Sunday. And while Baffert and O'Neill dominate the entries, they don't have the colt with the highest speed number.That belongs to Stormello, bred and owned by Al Eisman and William Currin and trained by Currin. The son of Stormy Atlantic was an easy 3 1/2-length winner against maidens at Del Mar July 29.Stella's Posada, one of the supplementary entries and the lone gelding in the race, is the only two-time winner in the field, posting a runaway victory in an allowance event July 27 at Del Mar after two disappointing efforts for O'Neill. He was purchased by owner Paul Reddam following an impressive maiden win May 11 at Hollywood Park."Paul bought him with the hope he would be a Best Pal kind of horse," O'Neill said Friday. "He went off track a little bit, so we altered our training a little bit and he sure ran well the other day. We know he likes the track, so we might give it a go."I was training him like a classic horse," O'Neill said. "I was galloping him a mile and eighth, a mile and a quarter every day. I shortened his gallops up a little bit and I quickened his works, even though I'm not a fast-workouts kind of guy. I think that got the job done."
O'Neill also will saddle impressive winners Cobalt Blue and Great Hunter in the Best Pal.Principle Secret, an impressive Del Mar maiden victor on July 22 from the Christopher Paasch barn, and the other supplemental entry, Hollywood Park maiden winner Divide and Conquer, bring more question marks to the field.$150,000 Best Pal Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 5:30 p.m.), 2-Year-Olds, 6 1/2 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Mr. Negotiator (KY), 117, Jon K. Court
2. Great Hunter (PA), 119, Corey S. Nakatani
3. Stella's Posada (FL), 117, David Cohen
4. Hot Flame (FL), 119, David R. Flores
5. Principle Secret (KY), 119, Alex O. Solis
6. Stormello (KY), 119, Victor Espinoza
7. Divide and Conquer (KY), 119, Norberto Arroyo, Jr.
8. Cobalt Blue (FL), 119, Martin Garcia