Del Mar Notebook: Week in Review; Horses to Watch

by Brian P. Turner
(Editor's Note: Content for this weekly handicapping notebook is provided by Brisnet).

French import BLACKDOUN (Fr) (Verglas [Ire]) continued his quest toward the September 6 Del Mar Derby (G2) with his second scintillating performance of the meet in Saturday's La Jolla H. (G2). A field of seven went to the post for the 1 1/16-mile turf event.

The gray first turned heads on opening day when he easily disposed of the field in the second division of the Oceanside S., rallying from off the pace to cross the finish line 2 1/2 lengths in front under nothing but a hand ride and setting a new stakes record in the process. This performance didn't escape the attention of the betting public either as they sent the Julio Canani trainee to the gate for the La Jolla as the heavy 4-5 favorite.

Blackdoun settled near the back of the pack early where he was content to canter through fractions of :23 4/5 and :47 3/5. Gradually, the colt began to move up into contention so that he was ready to strike when the field turned for home. Unfortunately, he found himself facing a wall of horses, forcing Corey Nakatani to steady off of the leaders, but the veteran jockey never panicked and was ready when the hole finally opened in the final sixteenth. Blackdoun then unleashed an explosive turn of foot to cross the finish line three parts of a length in front under nothing but a vigorous hand ride.

SEMI LOST (Lost Soldier), runner up in the first division of the Oceanside S. in his last start, rallied from last and held on for the place, three parts of a length in front of BEDMAR (GB) (Bluebird) in third.

Sunday's Best Pal S. (G2) found a field of five going to the gate for 6 1/2 furlongs. Though the race served as an impressive showcase for the Bob Baffert trained ROMAN RULER (Fusaichi Pegasus), the event was marred by the tragic breakdown of WETHERLY (Expelled), who suffered a compound fracture of his left foreleg.

After trailing over eight lengths off of the pace setters early, Roman Ruler began to make up ground on the backstretch when he was forced to alter course to avoid Wetherly on the track. The dark bay continued to roll and gained the lead in the stretch, widening his advantage late to cross the finish line seven lengths in front. Stablemate ACTXECUTIVE (Noactor) was a clear second, finishing 10 lengths clear of SLEWBAG (Devil's Bag) in third.

Also on Sunday, another field of five went to the gate for the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup H. (G2) for three-year-olds and upward going seven furlongs. PICO CENTRAL (Brz) (Spend A Buck) was sent off as the heavy favorite as he attempted to pick up his fourth graded stakes victory of the year in as many tries. The five-year-old horse shot to the lead and led the field through early fractions of :21 4/5 and :43 4/5, but weakened through the stretch to finish third.

In the end, Horse to Watch KELA (Numerous) followed up his victory in last month's Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup H. (G1) by rallying from last to cross the finish line 4 1/2 lengths clear. DOMESTIC DISPUTE (Unbridled's Song) picked up the place, 1 1/4 lengths better than Pico Central.

Finally, last Wednesday, a field of eight contested the 1 1/16 mile Osunitas H. over the Jimmy Durante turf course. ETOILE MONTANTE (Miswaki) was sent off as the heavy favorite but after suffering through a troubled trip where she was checked then blocked in the stretch, she had to settle for fourth. VOZ DE COLEGIALA (Chi) (Sayaret) stalked the pace early then took the lead in the stretch, holding on valiantly late to cross the finish line a half-length in front. MAKEUP ARTIST (Dynaformer) rallied from last for the place, another half-length clear of SHALINI (Urgent Request [Ire]) in third.

On the main track this week, horses on or near the pace dominated sprints in the early part of the week, but things changed dramatically over the weekend as closers really enjoyed a heavy advantage. By Monday though, the tide had reverted once more. As for the routes, runners on or near the pace held the advantage on the main track through the entire week as they did on the turf regardless of whether they were going short or long.

Doug O'Neill is still maintaining his top spot among trainers with 18 winners for the meet. Jeff Mullins is second with 14 followed by Baffert at 11. Regarding the jockeys, Tyler Baze has opened up a little bit of breathing room in the standings as his 35 winners leave him eight ahead of Corey Nakatani in second. Victor Espinoza is third with 23 for the meet.


Wednesday (08/11)
7TH - Etoile Montante overcame a world of trouble and closed with nice strides to miss by only a length. A better trip next out should yield better results.

Thursday (08/12)
8TH - DADDYSANGBASS (Bartok [Ire]) overcame an outside post to lead this field of state-bred maiden claimers from gate to wire in his first career start. After dueling through early fractions of :21 4/5 and :45 1/5, the two-year-old colt pulled clear in the stretch to cross the finish line 4 1/2 lengths in front and should loom a threat in his next start provided his connections don't become too ambitious with his placement.

Friday (08/13)
1ST - EVRYBDYLUVSDAHEAT (Unusual Heat) made his first effort on the grass an impressive one, stalking the pace early before overcoming some bumping in the stretch drive and pulling away late to take this claiming event by four lengths.

5TH - GENERAL EXPRESSION (General Meeting) put in a solid effort in her first career start, challenging for the lead throughout and holding on gamely late to finish second in this Cal-bred maiden special event. Though the bay was no match for the winner, she finished three lengths clear of her nearest rival.

EASY ELEGANCE (General Meeting) was content to run last through the early stages of this race but once the field hit the turn, she made a nice four wide move and was finishing with good energy late.

Saturday (08/14)
5TH - SEA HARBOR (Slewpy) was bumped soundly at the start of this allowance turf event and then he was caught in tight against the rail going into the first turn. The trouble didn't end there for the four-year-old gelding as once the field turned for home, he found himself boxed in down on the rail. Once a hole finally opened, Sea Harbor shot through and closed with an explosive turn of foot to finish third, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths.

8TH - Blackdoun continues to impress; especially considering the amount of trouble he faced in the La Jolla and how professionally he handled it.

9TH - DOMINIQUES DARLING (Deputy Minister) definitely took the scenic route in her first career start as she was five wide through the backstretch and on the turn of this 6 1/2-furlong maiden special event. Once she hit the stretch, though, the chestnut finished well and pulled clear to cross the finish line 3 1/2 lengths in front.

Sunday (08/15)
2ND - Roman Ruler has done nothing wrong in two career starts and should have no trouble stretching out once he is asked to go a route.

4TH - NO BULL BABY (Indian Charlie) needed nothing but a hand ride to easily dispose of this field of maidens in her first career start. The two-year-old filly chased the pacesetter early before pulling clear in the stretch and hitting the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front.

Monday (08/16)
7TH - SCROFA (Unusual Heat) rallied from off the pace to take this optional claiming grass event by 1 1/4 lengths, giving Unusual Heat his second first on the grass winner of the week. The California-based sire is hitting at a rate of over 20 percent whenever his offspring first try the lawn.