January 31, 2023

Hunt bids for repeat in solid renewal of Eddie Read

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

Contested over 1 1/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course at Del Mar, Sunday’s $250,000 Eddie Read (G2) pits well-matched competitors stepping up or turning back in trip, and even international intrigue.

Defending champion Hunt, up in time in the Shoemaker Mile (G1) in his reappearance, leads the contingent who are tacking on another furlong. Itsinthepost, installed as the 5-2 morning-line choice over the 3-1 Hunt, tops those coming off longer events.

Hunt, a Dark Angel gelding, once had something to prove over this distance, but the former sprinter just needed to mature to unlock hidden potential. Indeed, the Phil D’Amato charge went on to add the 1 3/8-mile Del Mar H. (G2) later in the meet over a troubled Itsinthepost. Although the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) was a bridge too far, Hunt promptly rebounded to land the Seabiscuit (G2), and made light of a six-month layoff to run down Heart to Heart in the Shoemaker.

Also coming off the Shoemaker are Hunt’s stablemate Bowies Hero and the Richard Baltas-trained Next Shares. The respective top two from the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita back in March, they reversed order in the rematch. Next Shares again rallied furiously but too late, settling for third in the Shoemaker, while Bowies Hero did not make as much headway in fifth. The added ground figures to suit Next Shares a bit better than Bowies Hero, whose 0-for-4 mark at the trip includes a third in the Del Mar Derby (G2) to Sharp Samurai.

Sharp Samurai, cross-entered to Saturday’s San Diego (G2) on the main track, boasts a 4-for-5 record at this distance. The winner of four straight last season, a skein comprising the Twilight Derby (G2), La Jolla (G3), and Singletary in addition to the Del Mar Derby, he was upset when trying to make it five in the Hollywood Derby (G1). Perhaps a more patient ride could have helped him hold on better than fifth. In any event, Sharp Samurai regained the winning thread in his June 17 comeback at Santa Anita for Mark Glatt, besting fellow returnee Catapult in that mile allowance. John Sadler’s recruit Catapult, runner-up in the Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (G2) when last seen with Chad Brown, is a son of Kitten’s Joy eligible to improve with age.

Definitely on the upswing is Irish shipper True Valour, a 15-1 dark horse from the yard of renowned jockey-turned-trainer Johnny Murtagh. The Qatar Racing runner just posted a new career high in the June 14 Ballycorus (G3) at Leopardstown, with first-time cheekpieces possibly helping him break through after thirds in the Diomed (G3) and Amethyst (G3) to start the season. True Valour had bits and snatches of useful form in the past, notably a head loss to Lancaster Bomber in a juvenile maiden, and a close second in last September’s Boomerang (G2) to Suedois, the next-out winner of the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1). Although untested beyond 1 1/16 miles, he should have no problem over a firm course, and he obviously likes going left-handed. Jamie Spencer jets in for the ride.

Itsinthepost racked up his seventh Grade 2 in the Whittingham BENOIT PHOTO

Itsinthepost brings a 5-3-1-0 record at 1 1/8 miles, including a victory in the January 6 San Gabriel (G2), but the French import has made his name going longer. His six other Grade 2 titles have all come in the 10-12 furlong range, most recently in the May 26 Charles Whittingham (G2). The Jeff Mullins veteran, ever game and consistent, faces a more rigorous test of his effectiveness at the trip here than in the San Gabriel. He’s also 0-for-9 over this course, although a clean trip in last year’s Del Mar ‘Cap may well have amended that stat.

Whittingham fifth Flamboyant is capable on his day, as evidenced in his San Francisco Mile (G3) score two starts back at Golden Gate, but he’s another winless in nine outings on the Del Mar turf. And at this point in his career, it’s difficult to envision him finding a way to reverse form with both Hunt and Itsinthepost.

Fashion Business, a son of Frankel and Icon Project, is much more intriguing as a lightly raced four-year-old. Fifth in the Manhattan H. (G1) last out, beaten a scant length after going seven wide, he was only a head away from upsetting Sharp Samurai in last summer’s La Jolla. Likely improvement since then puts him squarely in the mix, despite appearing as D’Amato’s third string behind Hunt and Bowies Hero. Note that D’Amato also sent out Midnight Storm to take the 2016 Eddie Read, so he’s triple-handed in search of the three-peat.

A similar case can be made for Manhattan ninth Multiplier, who puts the blinkers back on for Peter Miller. Last year’s Illinois Derby (G3) winner, and Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1) also-ran, failed to progress on dirt and a transfer from Brendan Walsh. But once Miller tried him on turf, he returned to winning form in a May 13 Santa Anita allowance. That’s a logical development for a son of The Factor from a family redolent of turf influences, and Multiplier presumably has more to offer in just his third start on this surface.

Prime Attraction, unraced since his poor sixth in the Santa Anita H. (G1), is a frustrating type to follow on dirt but arguably more straightforward on the grass. In his last turf attempt in October, the Jim Cassidy trainee was nabbed late by Itsinthepost in the John Henry Turf Championship (G2).

Earlier on the Sunday card, the $75,000 Wickerr over a grassy mile marks the stretch-out of  Conquest Tsunami and the belated reappearance of Big Score. Conquest Tsunami steps up to two turns after several strong performances in sprints, from his Daytona (G3) victory to placings in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) and Jaipur (G2). Big Score, runner-up in both the Del Mar Derby and Twilight Derby, was last seen placing third in the Mathis Brothers Mile. Other contenders include graded veterans Isotherm and Editore as well as the trifecta from the Siren Lure, Bombard, Cistron, and Perfectly Majestic.