2014 Handicapping Feast: Hollywood Derby Day

If you’ve been following along during Picks & Ponderings‘s three-day Thanksgiving Weekend Handicapping Feast, you’ll notice that we’ve covered Thursday and Friday stakes races that have led up to the multi-stakes programs slated for Saturday.  And the feast continues.  Nicolle covers the program from New York headed by the Cigar Mile.  Not to be outdone, Paul previews the Hawthorne Gold Cup.


Image courtesy Del Mar.

However, we’ve covered the Del Mar stakes dutifully at Picks & Ponderings this week as part of their Hollywood Turf Festival.  That group of grass races has relocated to the San Diego oval this year, and this piece examines the Saturday portion of the program, a multi-stakes day just like Aqueduct’s.  Three stakes are on the program: the G1 Hollywood Derby, the G3 Jimmy Durante, and the G3 Native Diver.  It’s worth noting the last one isn’t on the grass, however.  In terms of the handicapping feast, these three stakes from southern California stand as the main course if you like turf races, or as a nice dessert should you be starting your day at Aqueduct or Hawthorne.  In terms of the weekend, there are two G1 races slated for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and one of them is covered here.

Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.  In races scheduled for the turf, selections are given “turf only”.  All races in this piece are scheduled for Saturday November 29th.

Updated overnight November 27th to include pre-scratch morning lines.

Del Mar — Race 3 — G3 Native Diver Handicap — 1 1/8 Miles on Polytrack — post time 1:30 pm PT

Imported from now shuttered Hollywood Park, the G3 Native Diver will be contested for the 36th time this year.  It carries a purse of two hundred grand, and sees older males, three and up types, go nine furlongs on the polytrack.  While this December fixture comes south to Del Mar after a long time at Hollywood, the namesake is bittersweet to Del Mar.  For Native Diver’s last career was at Del Mar in the Del Mar Handicap, where he set the track record for a mile and an eighth on dirt (the race nowadays is eleven furlongs on grass) in 1:46 3/5.  Eight days later, Native Diver succumbed to colic and died.  A monument was built for Native Diver, the first California-bred to be a millionaire and thrice a winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup. Such monument has relocated to Del Mar following the closure of Hollywood.  And with the monument from Hollywood, comes the stakes race bearing his name.  Along with the namesake and backstory, this race brings with it a list of winners that includes Califronia stakes namesakes like Sir Beaufort (1992) and Best Pal (1994), Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup (1995), and multiple Grade 1 winner Game On Dude (2012).

He’s never been nine furlongs, but BLUE TONE, with the Birdstone-Grindstone sire line has every reason to like it.  He’s shown he can take the lead and carry it all the way around, as seen two back in the Brubaker or he can press from up close, as he did clearing the two-other-than allowance condition at Del Mar.  Four wins in six tries and never out the superfecta over the all-weather surface, he steps up from listed stakes to G3 company and is a Kent Desormeaux/Bob Hess, Jr. team-up.  That jockey/trainer pair is hitting at 61% in the money, 18% wins, while the training half has a one-in-five strike rate going from dirt to synthetic.  The dirt start last time out against stakes quality Regally Ready is nothing to be ashamed of, as that stakes also lured the G3 Longacres Mile winner and was fairly deep for the level.  Perhaps a softer stakes will be just what he needs and he gets the more preferred synthetic to run on.  TAMARANDO gets a weight concession for being a three-year-old taking on elders, and TAMARANDO did win the G3 El Camino Real over the Tapeta earlier in the year.  But trainer Jerry Hollendorfer shrewdly put this one in the mothballs when he appeared to stagnate in races like the G3 Spiral and the Snow Chief.  Perhaps he’s hit his ceiling already, but TAMARANDO may do better second off the layoff after being runner-up in a downhill turf stakes for state-breds.  Second off the layoff is a 21% win situation, and TAMARANDO is the only true closer in a field of forwardly placed types. AVANZARE found the ten panels of the G3 Arlington Handicap too far three back on Million Preview Day and was redirected to the G3 Washington Park Handicap, where he threw out the anchor and led gate-to-wire in that nine furlong polytrack event.  Put on turf last time in the G2 City of Hope Mile, he pressed and ran evenly around.  Perhaps that works again here, and if no one wants the lead AVANZARE will take it and run off on slow splits.  But AVANZARE did win when quicker splits were set at Tampa.  He is most effective if he’s on the lead, but that could be crowded in this nine panel event.


#3 BLUE TONE (2/1)

#2 TAMARANDO (7/2)

#5 AVANZARE (5/1)

Longshot: Not often you get to say the defending champion is a resident of this space, but #7 BLUESKIESNRAINBOWS (5/1) is that.  Winner of last year’s G3 Native Diver at now defunct Hollywood, he also annexed the G2 San Pasqual earlier in the year.  Something went wrong in the G2 San Antonio, the local prep to the G1 Santa Anita Handicap, where he set the early tempo but faded in the lane to be sixth.  He still appeared off kilter in the twelve furlong G3 Tokyo City.  He did a flash and fade in the Big Bear Stakes where BLUE TONE was fourth.  Yet he may have needed that start off the long vacation, and the trainer is 23% wins/59% in the money going dirt-to-synthetic.

Del Mar — Race 6 — G3 Jimmy Durante Stakes — One Mile on Turf — post time 3:00 pm PT

The only one of the three stakes races previewed in this piece to change its name in its migration from Hollywood to Del Mar, the G3 Jimmy Durante Stakes started life as the Miesque Stakes during the Hollywood Turf Festival. In its past life it honored Miesque, who was winning back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Miles and beating the boys long before Goldikova made it cool.  Miesque was inducted into racing Halls of Fame in her native France and in the United States.  The Kingmambo-Lemon Drop Kid sire line is a direct descendant of Miesque.  For this $150,000 race for juvenile turf fillies, the new namesake (as with many races at this meet) is for entertainers that palled around with Bing Crosby.  Durante fits the bill, as a radio star that was also popular in television’s infancy.  Yet the physical address of Del Mar is 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd (in Del Mar, CA) and the turf course has Durante’s namesake as well.  Durante was also a fan of horse racing, and may have graced the track during its days in the forties with others that Del Mar named a stakes after this Autumn meet. Notable winners include eventual G1 winner Bail Out Becky (1994), one year before this race first earned a grade.

This race is carded for two-year-old fillies on the grass.  Either BELLE ET BETE is something special or those were tomato cans and cardboard cut-outs that she was facing three back at York in Great Britain.   Second in an all-ages race, she defeated the boys over in Europe in her last two starts and ships west to try this G3 on the weeds that features a plethora of runners still eligible for a first-level allowance.  BELLE ET BETE goes for a trainer having limited success, but limited is the number of outs.  Only seven outs, but two wins and three more times in the trifecta.  Trainer stats are strong too, as this one is 23% wins (but another small sample) with imports like these.  Stretches out from seven panels to a two-turn mile, but has local works over the course.  Faces her own gender for only the second time in her career, and perhaps the stakes try in start two was too much, too soon.  RAINHA DE BATERIA is a Graham Motion trainee (and his charge was endorsed on Turkey Day), and Motion is having a strong year overall.  The G3 Jessamine winner comes west to Del Mar after two back winning at Keeneland when the pace was much quicker than the slow pace in the P. G. Johnson at Saratoga.  Faced Lady Eli in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, which saw her go six-wide and be defeated by a horse that turned a lot of heads on the Halloween BC program.  There should be enough pace to set up her rally, and she won’t have the post thirteen of detriment that she did have upstate at Santa Anita.  The second career out is in this G3 for JADED GLORY, who recruits Gary Stevens to ride in his eight thousandth comeback attempt.  Winner on the downhill course at Santa Anita at first asking, this one stretches out to two turns for the the first time.  With Smart Strike as the sire and being out of a Giant’s Causeway mare, that makes two turns into a minimal issue.  Trainer Tom Proctor is okay going first time route (16% wins, 41% top three), but much better with second-timers on the grass (24% wins).  Perhaps she can progress from start one to two.


#3 BELLE ET BETE (6/1)


#9 JADED GLORY (6/1)

Longshot: Perhaps she can progress from start one to two. You’re not reading it twice, as that reason is why #1 CONQUEST ARTURA (12/1) gets the nod in this space.  While JADED GLORY won on debut, CONQUEST ARTURA went a route of ground in her career opener.  That came over these weeds, where was sixth beaten 2 1/4 lengths.  Yet she was squeezed at the quarter pole and still managed to reel in some rivals.  With Conquest in the name, it’s yet another Conquest Stables-owned and Mark Casse-trained production.  While JADED GLORY can improve, this one can improve too, but the margin will be larger.  And the figure isn’t that far from JADED GLORY’s. And she’ll have a cozy rail draw.  Perhaps a clean trip and maturity will be the keys to a graduation.

Del Mar — Race 8 — G1 Hollywood Derby — 1 1/8 Miles on Turf — post time 4:00 pm PT

The headline race of the Saturday-after-Thanksgiving program at Del Mar and one of the shining stars of the Hollywood Turf Festival, first at Hollywood Park and now at Del Mar, the $300,000 G1 Hollywood Derby dates to the 1930s.  Run on dirt up to the early 1970s, it was put back on the main track in the mid 1970s and served most famously as the last prep for Affirmed (1977) before he won the Triple Crown in the Spring.  And in its dirt days, Hall of Famers like Busher (1945) and Swaps (1955) took down this race.  When moved permanently to the grass course in 1981, it maintained a high standard with Saratoga namesake De La Rose (1981) winning it year.  And add in the first Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, Royal Heroine (1984), champion male turfers like Itsallgreektome (1990) and Paradise Creek (1992), and Breeders’ Cup Turf (in a dead-heat) winner Johar (2002), and the Hollywood Derby’s high standard has been maintained.  This year’s Hollywood Derby was shortened to nine furlongs from its usual ten furlong distance this year due to course configuration.

TALCO finally gets some pace to run into, or at least a runner that will give SAWYER’S HILL some company the front.  While SAWYER’S HILL was lone speed that nearly stole the G2 Twilight Derby on BC Friday, he was one of the two speeds, and the slower one at that, that led the field on a merry chase in the G2 Del Mar Derby over this course.  If SAWYER’S HILL goes too slow on the front end, that puts Queen’s Plate and last out G3 winner LEXIE LOU on the pace.  Post six on the outside was assigned to CALIFORNIA CHROME, and he may be pressing the moderate fractions.  Whether it’s LEXIE LOU or CALIFORNIA CHROME, SAWYER’S HILL is not going to get the free lunch he had on Halloween, and with someone to contest the pace it gives TALCO a chance to run into a more “American” pace as opposed to what he might have been facing in France.  Those contested, but not super-swift, fractions should set it up for someone moving from mid-pack.  Second off the shelf, this Drayden Van Dyke/John Sadler production (27% wins, 53% in the money, 15 outs in last two months) projects to make that move and is the upset pick to take down the G1 Hollywood Derby.  It should be noted that LEXIE LOU is cross entered into the G1 Matriarch on Sunday November 30th.  Yet Daily Racing Form‘s Jay Privman mentions the connections have eyeballed this race and not the Matriarch.  Should she go here, she looks to maintain solid two-turn form that she demonstrated in the G3 Autumn Miss upstate at Santa Anita.  Now taking on the boys, but she defeated them in taking down the Queen’s Plate.  She does project to take support at the windows off her swift score.  Yet while something went wrong in the G2 Canadian two back, that race had the pace closer to what she’ll see today, not the more lively one in the Autumn Miss.  Recruits a solid SoCal grass rider in Corey Nakatani.  On the far outside, and perhaps making this G1 a G1, is CALIFORNIA CHROME.  Yes, it’s the Derby winner and the talking point horse.  And he’s worked over the turf, a half mile in :52– with the dogs way out.  CALIFORNIA CHROME does have a license to like grass, as his sire won a minor grass sprint at Arlington.   And he could settle into a pressing Wise Dan-style trip from the far outside post.  He deserves a chance to try the grass (as the connections had the pie-in-the-sky idea of trying the 2015 Arlington Million) off his pedigree and synthetic win in the final days of Hollywood Park.  And CALIFORNIA CHROME might be back in form with his third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  It’s possible he gets a Wise Dan-like stalk/pounce trip.  Or he presses wide and tires.  This space thinks he should be used defensively, simply as the Hollywood Derby, beyond him and LEXIE LOU, features four questionable runners.  Perhaps the best horse wins, but this is the green stuff and not the dirt he’s been all year.


#1 TALCO (10/1)

#2 LEXIE LOU (3/1)


Longshot: X marks the spot.  X is the final letter of Desormaeux, and he’s got the mount on #6 CABRAL (15/1), who gets a mulligan for his last run at nine furlongs in the G3 Hill Prince.  That came over a boggy turf rated “soft” and the Del Mar turf likely won’t play that way.  Instead, cycle back to solid runs at nine and a half panels in France and that every other start has seen him the superfecta.  Last out third at a mile in a minor stakes over these weeds, he stretches back out to nine panels.  He caught a swift pace in the Let It Ride Stakes earlier in the meet, and would he helped if SAWYER’S HILL and CALIFORNIA CHROME contest the early fractions.  Yet he’s handled slower paces fine in Europe.  CABRAL goes second time lasix, which in ten tries for the trainer has two wins, two more board hits, and a very high ROI approaching +$5.

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