March 20, 2019

Hunt heads D’Amato trio in Del Mar Handicap

Hunt winning the Eddie Read (G2) at Del Mar on July 22, 2017 © BENOIT PHOTO

After winning his first summer meet title in 2016, Phil D’Amato is enjoying another fine season atop the standings at Del Mar, entering the fifth week with a two-win advantage over the nearest challenger. He also leads all conditioners with five stakes tallies and D’Amato is launching an assault upon Saturday’s $250,000 Del Mar H. (G2), sending out three of the 13 contestants in the 1 3/8-mile turf affair.

A “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Del Mar H. takes place one race prior to the signature $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) on the meet’s biggest day.

Hunt, who raced primarily in sprints earlier in his career, will try to carry his stamina a little farther following a victory in the 1 1/8-mile Eddie Read (G2) over the course on July 22. The 5-year-old rallied from just off the pace to win by a length, registering his first graded victory in the process, and the Del Mar H. represents his third start off a lengthy layoff for the improving gray gelding. Flavien Prat rides.

Big John B will move back to turf for D’Amato after three consecutive races on the main track. The veteran gelding has certainly displayed an affinity for the local turf, winning back-to-back editions of the Del Mar H. in 2014-15 and compiling an overall 4-3-1-0 record, but the 8-year-old will need to turn things around after not being a serious factor in his last four turf attempts. The latter can also be said for 7-year-old Up with the Birds, who brings plenty of back class to the race but exits a dull fifth in the Eddie Read for D’Amato.

Corey Nakatani picks up the mount on Big John B and Jamie Theriot retains the assignment on Up with the Birds.

Ashleyluvssugar came up a little short as the 3-5 favorite in the Eddie Read, recording his fourth runner-up finish from five turf attempts at Del Mar, but the Peter Eurton trainee will be making a title defense after prevailing by a nose last year. Regular rider Gary Stevens guides the 6-year-old gelding. Itsinthepost returns to the West Coast for Jeff Mullins following a fifth in the United Nations (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 1. The 5-year-old gelding reeled off consecutive long-distance turf wins in the Elkhorn (G2) and Charles Whittingham (G2) prior to his last and keeps Tyler Baze in the saddle.

Other runners include Eddie Read third-placer Mr. Roary; multiple Grade 2 scorer Flamboyant; and Monster Bea, winner of the 2016 Oceanside at Del Mar.