Owner Robert Bone and trainer Jeff Mullins bring back Choctaw Nation Sunday at Del Mar in hopes the 5-year-old can reprise his San Diego Handicap (gr. II) victory of last year.
If he can, the Louis Quatorze
gelding would likely go on to the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) again. He finished fourth to Pleasantly Perfect, whom he upset in the San Diego, in last year's running of the Pacific Classic.
In fact, the connections of all six older horses heading for the $250,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) almost certainly will be looking ahead to the Pacific Classic, the track's signature race which takes place Aug. 21.
The San Diego is the second race of the nine-race card.
Choctaw Nation, third in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) March 26 behind Roses in May, has had one start since, finishing a poor fifth behind Lava Man in the Californian (gr. II) at Hollywood Park June 18. Mullins opted to pass on the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) July 9, which Lava Man also won, in order to prepare for Del Mar's handicap series.
Lining up to tackle Choctaw Nation will be Keep On Punching, who finished sixth in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Bear in the Woods stretches out from a runner-up effort in Hollywood Park's seven-furlong Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I). And Ace Blue figures to get strong support off of his triumph in the Mervin Leroy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood.
Harvard Avenue, the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) winner at Santa Anita, and Preachinatthebar, who has won two straight allowance races, round out the field.
Missing from the expected lineup is Minister Eric, whom trainer Richard Mandella said was not entered because of what he called "a jammed up ankle." He said Friday morning the final diagnosis is yet to come, but he is sure the 4-year-old son of Old Trieste will "be out for a while."$250,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II), 3 & up, 1 1/16 miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Choctaw Nation, 115, Victor Espinoza
2. Keep On Punching, 114, Patrick Valenzuela
3. Bear in the Woods, 113, Corey Nakatani
4. Harvard Avenue, 115, Garrett Gomez
5. Ace Blue, 117, David Flores
6. Preachinatthebar, 115, Mike Smith