Headed by multiple graded stakes winner Inesperado and the Grade II-winning shipper Mr. Mellon, nine 3-year-old grass runners will head postward Saturday for the 58th running of the $300,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. II).The runners will be going 1 1/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course.Inesperado, owned by the 3 Plus U Stable and trained by Robert Frankel, comes to the race from victories in Hollywood Park's Cinema Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) and Del Mar's La Jolla Handicap (gr. III). He could be the favorite in the race. Mr. Mellon got acquainted with Del Mar's main track early Thursday morning in a one-mile gallop. The 3-year-old son of Red Ransom, owned by WinStar Farm and Thomas Van Meter and trained by W. Elliott Walden, arrived Wednesday afternoon and was bedded down in the barn of Bob Hess, Jr. In his most recent start, Mr. Mellon finished fifth in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) on dirt, 13 lengths behind winner War Emblem.For the Del Mar Derby, he returns to the grass, where he has a win and a second in two career tries. His victory came in the Arlington Classic (gr. II) prior to his run in the Haskell.Also bringing stakes-winning credentials to the race are Rock Opera and True Phenomenon, winners of the two divisions of Del Mar's Oceanside Stakes; Dell Place, who won the Relaunch Stakes here; and Mountain Rage, winner of three stakes on the Santa Anita grass earlier in the year. True Phenomenon gives Frankel a second chance to win, and Rock Opera will be running for trainer Clifford Sise, Jr., no household name with grass runners. Dell Place is trained by Tom Proctor, while Mountain Rage is conditioned by Bob Baffert.
Ranking as the hard-luck king of the field is Johar, trained by Richard Mandella. In his past three outings, the Gone West colt was beaten by a neck, a half-length and three-quarters of a length, all after rugged trips.Golden Arrow, only one for eight in his career, will be saddled by Hess, and Hecandigit, a non-winner in eight outings, will run from the hot barn of Warren Stute.$300,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. II, 1 1/8 mile on turf)
PP, Horse, Rider
1. Hecandigit, Octavio Vergara
2. Johar, Alex Solis
3. Mr. Mellon, Rene Douglas
4. Inesperado, Corey Nakatani
5. Golden Arrow, Victor Espinoza
6. Mountain Rage, Mike Smith
7. Rock Opera, Laffit Pincay, Jr.
8. True Phenomenon, Patrick Valenzuela
9. Dell Place, Gary Stevens.All carry 121 pounds.