Major stakes action doesn’t stop after Saratoga’s Travers Day bonanza, for later Saturday evening, Breeders’ Cup host site Del Mar stages two significant events – the $200,000 Pat O’Brien (G2) over seven furlongs and the one-mile Shared Belief for three-year-olds.
Although the Pat O’Brien serves as a “Win & You’re In” for the Dirt Mile (G1), its in-between distance suggests ramifications for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) as well. And the Shared Belief, being held around the same track and trip as the Dirt Mile, could turn out to be a scouting expedition for November 3.
Topping the 11-horse Pat O’Brien is Danzing Candy, installed as the 8-5 favorite on the strength of a three-race winning streak.
*** Update: Danzing Candy is out after reportedly suffering an injury that has prompted his retirement. According to Blood-Horse’s Jeremy Balan, he sustained a fracture above an ankle in his Friday morning gallop…***
The Bob Baffert trainee bested Accelerate in a May 5 Santa Anita allowance at a mile, outclassed them in the 1 1/16-mile Lone Star Park (G3), and just held next-out Bing Crosby (G1) hero Ransom the Moon in the San Carlos (G2) on the cutback to seven furlongs.
As a confirmed front runner, Danzing Candy figures to mix it up early with Mr. Hinx, recent winner of the course-and-distance Real Good Deal in Cal-restricted company. Last-out allowance scorer Blameitonthelaw and the rail-drawn Moe Candy, both from the John Sadler barn, are also capable of high speed if circumstances require. Danzing Candy is parked outside his potential pace rivals in post 8, which theoretically should give jockey Joe Talamo options. But all six of Danzing Candy’s career wins were wire jobs, so unless he either scorches to clear them, or turns over a new tactical leaf, he’ll be running the gauntlet for the whole seven furlongs.
That could redound to the benefit of the closers, including multiple Grade 1-placed Calculator, still seeking his first stakes trophy since the 2015 Sham (G3), and the talented but maddening Kobe’s Back, with his penchant for ambling out of the gate.
“That’s just Kobe, that’s his (modus operandi),” said Gary Stevens, who’s given up the mount on the multiple Grade 2-winning millionaire in favor of riding Peter Eurton’s other runner, Giant Expectations. “The few times he has broke well from the gate he hasn’t run well. But his last race (fourth in the Bing Crosby) was definitely on the right track and I look for him to run a big race too.
“Some horses get used to a rider and I think maybe they get a little bored sometimes. Kobe knows all my tricks and I know his, and maybe changing a rider can shake a horse up,” Stevens added.
“I learned that when I was a kid. My father told me and my brother, ‘I’m not going to keep you on every horse I put you on and it’s your job to know when a shake-up might do some good.’ I’ve taken pride in saying ‘Look, this horse isn’t giving me his best, and I don’t think I’ve been getting the best out of Kobe, for whatever reason.”
Flavien Prat is the beneficiary of that decision, as he’ll team up with Kobe’s Back for the first time.
“It wasn’t easy,” Stevens said of ending the partnership. “I’ve ridden Kobe so many times, and his last race was good. I think, in talking to the owner, Mr. (Lee) Searing, that this will probably be his last season, and sometimes a rider change will shake things up a little bit.”
Stevens also commented on Giant Expectations, winner of two straight in state-bred company at Belmont Park and most recently second in a Del Mar optional claimer (to Shared Belief contender Gato del Oro). Shortening up to one turn again could help the stakes novice.
“Giant Expectations is four years old, he’s just coming into his own and I think he’s got a huge future ahead of him,” the Hall of Famer said. “It’s a tough race for him, but I think he can be competitive. Kobe’s one of my favorites of all time, but sometimes you’ve got to make tough decisions.”
Calculator, a near-misser in last year’s Carter H. (G1) at this distance, has had better results on turf this campaign. The Peter Miller veteran has twice won sprinting down the hill at Santa Anita, and his latest third in Del Mar’s Wickerr looks even better after the top two, Blackjackcat and Vyjack, swept the exacta in the Del Mar Mile (G2). Miller fields two other contenders in new recruit Home Run Kitten and Solid Wager. Home Run Kitten, best known as a turf sprinter, makes his debut for the barn after selling to Rockingham Ranch for $80,000 at Barretts last month. Solid Wager must improve off a fifth in the Bing Crosby, but the Cal-bred has captured the past two editions of the Cary Grant here as well as dead-heating for the Midnight Lute (G3) victory.
Denman’s Call hasn’t factored in three starts since springing a 16-1 upset of the Triple Bend (G1) for Doug O’Neill, but Silent Bird, unraced since his fourth in the Triple Bend, isn’t to be overlooked. Two-for-three at the seven-furlong trip, including his stakes score in the Damascus, represents the red-hot barn of Mark Glatt firing at 25 percent this meet.
The Shared Belief, despite being a $100,000 race for sophomores on Travers Day, has attracted a strong group. Battle of Midway rates as the slight 2-1 morning-line favorite. He would be a sentimental choice too, since his trainer Jerry Hollendorfer also conditioned Shared Belief. But there’s not much in it between Battle of Midway, the 5-2 Gormley, the 3-1 Klimt, and even the 4-1 Gato Del Oro could prove himself in his stakes debut.
The top two clashed in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), with Gormley nabbing a gallant Battle of Midway. The form was reversed in the Kentucky Derby (G1), where Battle of Midway fought on for third and Gormley was a subpar ninth in the slop. Gormley stayed on the classic trail, finishing a creditable fourth in the Belmont (G1). Turning back in trip should suit Gormley, and trainer John Shirreffs also adds blinkers.
Battle of Midway, who crushed an overmatched field in the June 24 Affirmed (G3), likewise dons blinkers after his sixth in the Haskell Invitational (G1).
“I don’t know about a mile and a quarter for him, so even if all had gone well in the Haskell we might not have gone on to the Travers,” assistant trainer Dan Ward said.
“He’s run well from a stalking position and the outside post gives us that option. We’ll let (Flavien Prat) play the break see how the race develops.”
Should Battle of Midway rebound, he could aim for Parx’s $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) September 23 or the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby September 24 at Remington Park.
Klimt is two-for-two at this track, having turned the Best Pal (G2)/Del Mar Futurity (G1) double last summer for Baffert. Sidelined following an eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), he resurfaced for new trainer Art Sherman in the July 15 Los Alamitos Derby (G3). Despite the tall task to go nine furlongs off the layoff, Klimt was a promising second to West Coast. If his erstwhile stablemate goes on to win the Travers, Klimt would get a timely form boost. Talamo picks up the mount on the Kaleem Shah colorbearer, who receives six pounds from Battle of Midway and Gormley.
Speaking of form boosts, Gato Del Oro will try to give Giant Expectations one ahead of the Pat O’Brien. The blueblood son of Medaglia d’Oro and Funny Feeling (a stakes-winning full sister to Jimmy Creed) has won two straight since dropping his debut, and the Richard Baltas pupil is ready for a class test.
Sadler’s Northern Spur winner Cistron, fifth in the Los Al Derby, and the class-climbing O’Neill duo of Stone Hands and True Valor round out the field.