But there’s a prominent face set to appear even earlier on the card in the $100,000 Green Flash H. (G3) – reigning champion turf male Stormy Liberal, who seeks a repeat in this five-furlong scramble.
The two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) winner has not raced since finishing third in the Al Quoz Sprint (G1) on Dubai World Cup night. The Peter Miller veteran also placed in the Al Quoz last year, as a half-length second, but returned to action sooner. By this point last summer, Stormy Liberal had already raced twice, winding up sixth in the Jaipur (G2) on Belmont Day and getting up by a nose in a Del Mar allowance. That served as a preview of his photo-finish decision in the Green Flash over the same course and distance.
Stormy Liberal concedes both recency and weight as the 125-pound highweight, raising additional questions for the seven-year-old who hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since the Breeders’ Cup. His key opponents are Eddie Haskell, who edged Stormy Liberal in course-record time at Santa Anita and currently rides a three-race winning streak featuring the Daytona (G3) and Siren Lure; Wesley Ward’s elder statesman Undrafted, best remembered for his Royal Ascot victory in the 2015 Diamond Jubilee (G1); recent course-and-distance allowance romper Mr Vargas; and the speedy Calexman, who reverts to a turf course where he’s run well going longer.
The $250,000 Del Mar ‘Cap has Breeders’ Cup Turf implications, more through the free berth on offer than the presence of any divisional stars. Yet Fair Hill shipper The Great Day has upside as a multiple Group 1 winner in Argentina coming off a fine second to course record-setter Bandua in the Arlington H. (G3). Scratched from the Arlington Million (G1) in favor of this softer spot, the Arnaud Delacour pupil saw his form validated in the Chicago highlight when Bandua took third to Bricks and Mortar and Magic Wand. The Great Day could be poised for a peak effort in his third U.S. start, and the son of Harlan’s Holiday picks up Hall of Famer John Velazquez.
Among the local contenders, 124-pound highweight Marckie’s Water and United, the respective top two from the Charles Whittingham (G2), renew rivalry. Each has performed in the interim, Marckie’s Water rallying for second in the nine-furlong Eddie Read (G2) and United capturing a local allowance. The lightly raced United might have more scope for improvement, however, for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and hot-riding Flavien Prat. Others to note are multiple Grade 2 veteran Itsinthepost, winless from 11 tries on the Jimmy Durante turf but second in the 2017 Del Mar ‘Cap; Eddie Read third Ritzy A. P., eligible to appreciate the stretch-out to 1 3/8 miles; and the San Juan Capistrano (G3) exacta of Acclimate and Oscar Dominguez.
Top sophomore turf filly Concrete Rose is basking back East, but her form looms large in the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks through Chad Brown’s Cambier Parc. Most recently third to Concrete Rose in the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), Cambier Parc previously upstaged stablemate Newspaperofrecord in the Wonder Again (G3) in her only attempt at this 1 1/8-mile distance. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro and Canadian Horse of the Year Sealy Hill breaks from the rail with Velazquez.
As usual, such is the depth of Brown’s shedrow that he also dispatches Dogtag. The beautifully bred War Front filly broke her maiden in Saratoga’s P.G. Johnson as a juvenile and added the Hilltop at Pimlico in her seasonal reappearance. Her latest third in the three-runner Lake George (G3) at the Spa didn’t reflect her true ability, and the more normal race dynamics of a full field should help. Note that she gets Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle.
Regret S. (G3) heroine Hard Legacy, the first stakes winner for young trainer Norm Casse, is the last campaigned by the late Marylou Whitney. Now running in the name of her estate, the Churchill Downs shipper would add to an emotional month for the family following the Saratoga tributes, including Whitney’s induction into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame as a Pillar of the Turf. Julien Leparoux retains the mount. Also making the trek from Kentucky is Wildlife, who brings a two-for-two mark on turf into her stakes debut for Vicky Oliver.
Qatar Racing’s Hidden Message has come the furthest, having arrived from William Haggas’ Newmarket yard, but counts as locally trained now with Simon Callaghan. The Scat Daddy filly, hitherto a work in progress, turned the corner with her first stakes score last out in the Coral Distaff at Sandown. That effort followed a useful fourth in the Prix de Sandringham (G2) to Obligate, subsequently third to Laurens in the Prix Rothschild (G1). Hidden Message must overcome post 14, but Prat is an obvious plus.
Mucho Unusual changed tactics to capture the local prep, the San Clemente (G2), in last-to-first fashion over Apache Princess, Keeper ofthe Stars, and Callaghan’s Maxim Rate. A familiar presence on the circuit’s graded stakes, Maxim Rate narrowly got the better of Lady Prancelot when they were second and third in the Providencia (G3) and again in their one-two finish in the Senorita (G3). Lady Prancelot gained revenge in the June 1 Honeymoon (G3), where Maxim Rate was fifth.
One of a trio for Richard Baltas, Lady Prancelot is joined by class-climbing recruits Strike at Dawn and Raymundos Secret. Recent allowance winner Strike at Dawn was trained by Brown before selling for $150,000 at Keeneland’s Horses of Racing Age Sale in April, and unbeaten Raymundos Secret aired in starter company in her debut for the barn.
Blueblood Out of Balance, being by Kitten’s Joy and literally out of Zenyatta’s half-sister Balance, is bred to appreciate at least this distance. Trained like her dam by David Hofmans, the Amerman homebred just missed in an allowance to Mucho Unusual two back and closed for third to Strike at Dawn. Doug O’Neill’s Sold It, successful in the California Oaks on the Golden Gate Tapeta, can be forgiven her eased last-of-six in the Iowa Oaks (G3) since she’s not as effective on dirt.
Three-year-old dirt fillies get their turn in the $100,000 Torrey Pines (G3), and the one-mile trip lured Mother Goose (G2) runner-up Classic Fit out west, along with the Indiana Oaks (G3) fourth and fifth High Regard and Kim K. Godolphin’s homebred Classic Fit was easily best of the rest behind Dunbar Road at Belmont Park, but a rematch in Saturday’s 1 1/4-mile Alabama (G1) wasn’t as enticing as this open-looking graded opportunity. The Bob Baffert-trained Fighting Mad tries to carry her speed around two turns, if Kim K doesn’t thwart her with new rider Prat aboard. Fleet Treat upsetter Hollywood Hills; Sneaking Out, second as the favorite in both the Summertime Oaks (G2) and Fleet Treat; Summertime Oaks third Colonial Creed; and well-bred stakes debutante Into Chocolate round out the competitive field.