Wishing Gate slammed the door on eight rivals last month on opening weekend over the Del Mar turf, but it doesn't figure to be as easy when she faces a full field in the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT) Aug. 17.
A contentious group of 11 was entered in the 1 1/8-mile grass event for 3-year-old fillies, and 10 will start. Wishing Gate, with a perfect stalking trip from Gary Stevens to take the one-mile San Clemente Handicap (gr. IIT) July 21, has drawn the rail for her return engagement.
Glen Hill Farm's Florida homebred daughter of Indian Charlie loses the services of her Hall of Fame jockey, who will be at Arlington Park to ride Glen Hill's Marketing Mix, among others. Trainer Tom Proctor has tabbed Garrett Gomez for the ride this time.
Wishing Gate produced a mild 5-1 upset in the San Clemente, which she captured going away by 1 3/4 lengths for her first stakes tally. In peak form, she shipped in off an allowance/optional claiming victory at Arlington Park June 23. But with her deep stalking style, she could easily find traffic difficulty over Del Mar's tight turf course.
The bay filly enjoys the Del Mar turf, where she has recorded two of her three victories. She broke her maiden on the course last August and has continued to work well, covering five furlongs in :58 4/5 Aug. 11 on the Polytrack, best of 79 on the morning.
The Oaks is the eighth on a 10-race Saturday card with a 5:40 p.m. PDT scheduled post.
Unusual Way, runner-up in the San Clemente, gets off the rail this time. But the speedy filly will have to contend with the outside post and could find herself parked wide unless she can clear for Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze.
Jeff Bonde trains the daughter of Unusual Heat, who won the Campanile Stakes at Golden Gate Fields seven weeks prior to the San Clemente for owners Edward Brown Jr. and Phil Lebherz. Unusual Way has posted two bullet moves over the Del Mar lawn since the San Clemente, including a five-furlong drill in :58 4/5 Aug. 11.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Emotional Kitten was second, just half a length behind the winning Emollient in the July 13 American Oaks (gr. IT) last time out at Betfair Hollywood Park. The Wesley Ward-trained daughter of Kitten's Joy won the Hilltop Stakes at Pimlico Race Course a month earlier.
The Ramseys entered Kitten's Dumplings, trained by Mike Maker, as well. Another daughter of Kitten's Joy, she comes in with a three-race win streak including a sharp half-length triumph in the Lake George Stakes (gr. IIT) July 24 at Saratoga Race Course. She won the Regret (gr. IIIT) and Edgewood stakes at Churchill Downs this spring.
Also shipping in from New York is Sands Point Stakes (gr. IIT) winner Discreet Marq for trainer Christophe Clement and owner/breeder Patricia Generazio. Following the Sands Point, the New York-bred daughter of Discreet Cat romped by 6 1/4 lengths in the Eventail Stakes July 4 at Belmont Park. She is one of several who will assure a lively pace.
Clement won the 2007 Del Mar Oaks with another invader from the East, Rutherienne.
Other graded stakes winners on turf in the field are Sarach, who took the Honeymoon Stakes (gr. IIT) at Hollywood in June, and the British-bred Charlie Em, who notched the Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT) in her United States debut May 11.
Sarach, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella for Wertheimer and Frere, returned to run a good fourth in the American Oaks after setting the pace. Charlie Em has lost two straight since the Senorita for trainer Paddy Gallagher and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, including a fourth last time in the San Clemente.
Gallagher won the 2008 Del Mar Oaks with Magical Fantasy.
Tommy Town Thoroughbreds' Doinghardtimeagain captured the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) on Cushion Track in June and makes her second start on grass for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Need You Now comes off a stakes victory in Hollywood's one-mile Le Cle July 7 for trainer Mike Mitchell. Corey Nakatani would tie Bill Shoemaker and Chris McCarron for most Del Mar Oaks victories with four if he can get the upset with the daughter of Kheleyf.
European first-timer Pearlside, group-placed in France in her most recent start, completes the field. Another European first timer, Ighraa, a minor stakes winner in England, is on the also-eligible list.
$300,000 Del Mar Oaks (gr. IT, Race 8, 5:40 p.m.), 3YO fillies, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Wishing Gate (FL), G K Gomez, T F Proctor
2. Discreet Marq (NY), J R Leparoux, C Clement
3. Sarach (KY), M Garcia, R E Mandella
4. Emotional Kitten (PA), V Espinoza, W A Ward
5. Charlie Em (GB), J Talamo, P Gallagher
6. Kitten's Dumplings (KY), M E Smith, M J Maker
7. Doinghardtimeagain (CA), R Bejarano, J Hollendorfer
8. Need You Now (IRE), C S Nakatani, M R Mitchell
9. Pearlside (FR), M A Pedroza, D Vienna
10. Unusual Way (CA), R A Baze, J Bonde
11. Ighraa (IRE), R Bejarano, F Graffard
All carry 122 pounds.