Trainers’ concerns ‘surface’ on eve of the Pat O’Brien

August 27, 2021

Medina Spirit narrowest of choices in Shared Belief; Close of noms for final stakes weekend means the end is near

DEL MAR, Calif.—It’s a common, everyday factor in Thoroughbred racing magnified by the size of the purse and the importance of the event.

How will the track be playing? Will it favor speed horses or come-from-behind types? Because one trainer’s “too fast” is another’s “not fast enough.”

Case in point, Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes, the seven-furlong follow-up to the Grade I, $300,000 six-furlong Bing Crosby Stakes four weeks ago in Del Mar’s handicap division sprint graded event series.

The Crosby victory having assured a spot in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint here on November 6, winner Dr. Schivel is not entered in the O’Brien. But three of the next four Crosby finishers are set to run, fully aware that the O’Brien is a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Big Ass Fan Dirt Mile on the same day.

And for two of them – defending race champion C Z Rocket trained by Peter Miller and California-bred speedster Brickyard Ride trained by Craig Lewis – how the track plays on Saturday is of foremost concern.

In the immediate aftermath of the Crosby, in which C Z Rocket closed from fifth to third in the stretch, nearly making up a four-length deficit to lose only by a neck, Miller said he’d pass on the O’Brien. Which, the trainer said this morning, could still happen.

“We’re still not 100 percent sure,” said Miller, who has consistently expressed concerns over what he considers a speed-favoring track throughout the meeting. “We’re going to keep an eye on the track and see how it’s playing. The post (No. 9) is good. I just don’t want to run him if it’s not a fair track. I’m just trying to be fair to the horse, and the public, that’s all.”

Claimed for $40,000 in April of 2020, the O’Brien win, followed by a victory in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint were keys to a nine-race campaign in 2020 that produced $651,901 in earnings. The seven-year-old gelded son of City Zip has added $536,000 from four 2021 starts for career earnings of more than $1.4 million.

Brickyard Ride overcame a bobble at the break to go straight to the lead in the Bing Crosby through early fractions of :21.80 and :44.60 on a track that the Daily Racing Form analysts rated as favoring closers, before being passed by four horses in the stretch.

The 4-year-old son of Clubhouse Ride, an Alfred Pais homebred, has career earnings of $470,477. Of that, $300,200 has been accumulated via three wins in six starts this year, highlighted by a victory in the Grade II San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita in March.

“I’d like to see a little better start and a little more glib track (than the Crosby), but you can’t control that,” Lewis said of his O’Brien hopes. “Certain horses like it certain ways and he (Brickyard Ride) wants to go the speed route. We’d like a quick track, that’s the bottom line.

“Other than that, he’s good to go. We just need things to go our way, which is asking for a lot. There’s a lot of nice horses in a very competitive race.”

The field for the Pat O’Brien from the rail with jockeys and morning line odds in parentheses: 

1. Ginobili (Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1)
2. Howbeit (Kyle Frey, 6-1)
3. Surfing Star (apprentice Jessica Pyfer, 30-1)
4. Mo Mosa (Ramon Vasquez, 10-1)
5. Eight Rings (Abel Cedillo, 6-1)
6. Classier (Mario Gutierrez, 12-1)
7. Brickyard Ride (Juan Hernandez, 8-1)
8. Flagstaff (Joe Bravo, 3-1)
9. C Z Rocket (Peter Miller, 5-2)
10. California Street (Wayne Barnett, 30-1)

Medina Spirit narrowest of choices in Shared Belief

Disputed Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was made the 7-5 choice over 8-5 Rock Your World on oddsmaker Jon White’s morning line, released today, for Sunday’s $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes.

“It was a challenge, and I gave it a lot of thought,” White said. “They’re obviously the two best horses in the race and I didn’t want to separate them by much, not even 7-5 and 9-5.”

Here are some of the things White said he considered before crafting the numbers, as he does for every Del Mar race, but one that took on extra interest with the entry of two comebackers from the Triple Crown trail:

Medina Spirit was first under the wire in the Kentucky Derby and went off as the nearly 5-2 favorite two weeks later when finishing third in the Preakness in his last start. Medina Spirit had been favored three times in seven career starts, including 9-10 in a loss to Rock Your World in the Santa Anita Derby.

Rock Your World has a victory over Medina Spirit in the Santa Anita Derby and had no chance after a jostled start in the Kentucky Derby and had gone favored only once, his racing debut in January at Santa Anita, in five career starts.

“When push comes to shove, finishing first under the wire in the Kentucky Derby deserves respect,” White said. “And in situations like this, I ask myself that if it turns out I’m wrong, which one would I still be able to live with the best.”

The field for the Shared Belief Stakes from the rail with jockeys and morning line odds in parentheses: 

1. Willy the Cobbler (Victor Espinoza, 20-1)
2. Medina Spirit (John Velazquez, 7/5)
3. Rock Your World (Umberto Rispoli, 8/5)
4. Team Merchants (Mario Gutierrez, 5-1)
6. The Great One (Flavien Prat, 6-1)
7. Stilleto Boy (Kent Desormeaux, 6-1)

Close of noms for final stakes weekend means the end is near

The deadline for nominations for six of the eight stakes races on the five-day closing week of the meeting, September 2-6, was Thursday at midnight. Nominations for the two Grade I events for Juveniles, the Del Mar Debutante on September 5 and Runhappy Del Mar Futurity, closed in June.

Here’s a rundown of the nominees for the upcoming stakes starting next Friday:

Friday, September 3, $100,000 Generous Portion, 6 furlongs, for 2-year-old Cal-bred fillies – 18 nominations, with three from the Doug O’Neill barn (It’s Simple, La Deuxieme Etoile and Sally Stanford) and two from Phil D’Amato (Carmen Miranda, Connie Swingle).

Saturday, September 4,  Grade II, $200,000 Del Mar Derby, 1 1/8 miles on turf for 3-year-olds – 25 nominations, among them Flashiest and Sword Zorro, winners of the Oceanside Stakes and La Jolla Handicap, respectively, the first two legs of the summer turf stakes series for 3-year-olds.

Saturday, September 4, Grade II, $200,000 John C. Mabee Stakes, 1 1/8 miles on turf for older fillies and mares – 14 nominations, among them Dogtag and Maxim Rate, the 2-3 finishers in the Yellow Ribbon on August 7.

Saturday, September 4, $100,000 I’m Smokin Stakes, six furlongs for California-bred 2-year-olds – 12 nominations, among them Graduation Stakes winner Rock N Rye.

Sunday, September 5, Grade I, $300,000 Del Mar Debutante, 7 furlongs for 2-year-old fillies – 132 nominations, with the racing office projecting a field of nine, among them Sorrento Stakes winner Elm Drive.

Sunday, September 5, $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Fillies Turf, one mile on turf for 2-year-old fillies – 17 nominations, led by three from D’Amato and two each from Simon Callaghan, Richard Baltas and O’Neill.

Monday, September 6, $100,000 Del Mar Juvenile Turf, one mile on turf for two-year-olds – 18 nominations, among them O’Neill-trained La Deuxieme Etoile and Miss Bellatrix, who are cross-entered in the Juvenile Fillies Turf a day earlier.

Monday, September 6, Grade I, $300,000 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity, 7 furlongs for 2-year-olds – out of 153 nominated in June, the racing office projects a field of seven, led by Best Pal Stakes winner Pappacap.

CLOSERS  Selected works from 132 officially timed this morning: Dogtag (4f, :48.20); Dozo (4f, :47.20); Sally Stanford (4f, :48.80); Holden the Lute (5f, :59.00); Ko Olina (5f, 1:00.00); She’s Our Charm (5f, 1:01.40); Wicked (6f, 1:13.40).

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Stable Notes

Photo: C Z Rocket (Beniot) 

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