Rock Opera A Leading Contender for Del Mar Derby

(From track report)
Rock Opera, one of the leading contenders for Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT), put in his final work for the race, going 5 furlongs on the grass Sunday in 1:03.60 today.

The move put Rock Opera the winner of one of the divisions of Del Mar's Oceanside Stakes opening day, at the point trainer Clifford Sise has been seeking since the gelding's July 24 performance.

The Derby will be run at 1 1/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course.

"The horse is doing very, very well," Sise says. "The thing that scares me is that only one horse in 30 days went wire-to-wire on the turf and he only won by a nose. That's our biggest fear."

Though the son of Royal Academy's running style suggests he wants the lead, Sise said, "He would rate, but the way the turf is playing, probably everybody will be holding back. It seems like you have to come off the pace on this turf right now."

How does the fact he'll probably be running against two Robert Frankel trainees strike Sise? "I'm not so worried about one of them [True Phenomenon], but the one that won the La Jolla [Inesperado], he can run. He's a nice horse, a very nice horse."

True Phenomenon won the other, slightly slower division of the Oceanside.

Of True Phenomenon, Sise said, "He's a nice horse, too, but he comes from way out of it, while the other horse can be more versatile."

The Derby field is shaping up as one of the best in quite some time, boasting the Oceanside and LaJolla winners as well as Relaunch Stakes winner Dell Place, trained by Thomas Proctor. Grade II stakes winner Mr. Mellon is expected from the Midwest-based barn of Elliott Walden as well.

Also committed to run are Golden Arrow, Johar, Mountain Rage and a new shooter, the maiden Hecandigit, from the hot stakes barn of Warren Stute.

Hecandigit worked 1 1/8 miles Sunday on the main track, going the distance in 1:53.80 with Octavio Vergara, who will ride Saturday, in the irons.

Trainer Martin Jones could have a sleeper for the Del Mar Derby in the French-bred runner Torsionnaire, who has been in the Jones barn less than two weeks.

"He looks like a nice horse," Jones said. "We're just kind of watching to see how he settles in over here and then make a decision as to whether we'll run or not. We'll just have to see how things unfold."

The son of Mtoto worked for the first time at Del Mar on Thursday and Jones was satisfied.

"He breezed nice. It was real easy, and we'll probably let him do something a little more before we decide whether to run him," said Jones, who added, "He's supposed to have a real nice turn of foot."

Here are the confirmed riding assignments for the Derby: Dell Place, Gary Stevens; Golden Arrow, Victor Espinoza; Hecandigit, Vergara; Johar, Alex Solis; Mr. Mellon, Rene Douglas; Rock Opera, Laffit Pincay, Jr.; True Phenomenon, Patrick Valenzuela.

Frankel will probably need a replacement on Inesperado with Eddie Delahoussaye expected to miss the remainder of the Del Mar meet recovering from injuries sustained in a fall Friday.