With four consecutive stakes wins since June, Sharp Samurai has left little doubt he’s the best California-based three-year-old on the turf this year. He’ll look to confirm that status again Saturday against eight others in the $300,000 Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar.
A gelded son of First Samurai, Sharp Samurai lost his initial stakes outing of the year in the $81,000 Singletary at Santa Anita to Bowies Hero, but has since turned that rival back twice, as well as Big Score, in both the course-and-distance Del Mar Derby (G2) and the Twilight Derby (G2) back at Santa Anita, the latter by 2 1/4 lengths. Sharp Samurai preceded those victories with scores in the $80,000 Rainbow and the La Jolla H. (G3).
Big Score beat the likes of Oscar Performance and Good Samaritan in the Transylvania (G3) to kick off his 2017 campaign, but has come up short in five subsequent outings. In addition to the aforementioned Del Mar Derby and Twilight Derby, the colt also earned minor placings in the American Turf (G2) and Penn Mile (G3).
Also exiting the Twilight Derby are Channel Maker, hero of the classic Breeders S. in Canada and fourth in the Santa Anita feature, and Just Howard, who finished sixth following an upset victory in the Commonwealth Derby (G3).
Mo Town, the 2016 Remsen (G2) winner, appeared to lose interest competing in Kentucky Derby (G1) preps in the spring and later one-turn allowances on the main track. However, the Tony Dutrow trainee roared back to life trying the grass October 12 at Belmont, cruising to a 6 1/2-length win against second-level allowance foes.
Seeking his first turf win in three tires is the Mark Casse-trained Souper Tapit, whose career highlight to date was a two-length score over Channel Maker in the Marine (G3) at Woodbine over the Tapeta.
The $100,000 Native Diver (G3) for older horses over 1 1/8 miles features a tussle between Awesome Again (G1) victor Mubtaahij and the streaking Top of the Game, who’s run up for three wins in succession including the $73,000 Comma to the Top against Hoppertunity and Irish Freedom. Both Mubtaahij and Irish Freedom are trained by Bob Baffert.
A competitive field will line up for the $100,000 Jimmy Durante (G3), a one-mile grass race for two-year-old fillies. Fatale Bere drew the far outside post 13 and will need some luck to make it two stakes wins in three U.S. starts. She captured the $102,000 Surfer Girl at Santa Anita by a nose in October and followed up with a solid fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1).
Trainer Graham Motion, who won the Jimmy Durante last year with Journey Home, sends out the Thewayiam, a last-out allowance winner at Keeneland. Also coming in off a win at the Lexington track is Daddy Is a Legend, second to eventual Breeders’ Cup winner Rushing Fall in a Belmont maiden before impressively graduating in her own right by nearly three lengths.
Also likely to attract support are stakes winners Raucous, Multiplayer, and One Fast Broad.