December 5, 2020

Midcourt faces four in Native Diver title defense

Midcourt wins the Native Diver S. 2019
Midcourt wins the 2019 Native Diver (G3) (Benoit Photo)

A smashing wire-to-wire winner last year, Midcourt will seek back-to-back wins in Saturday’s $100,000 Native Diver S. (G3) at Del Mar. The 5-year-old gelding will meet four rivals in the 1 1/8-mile race.

RELATED: Midcourt calls audible to wire Native Diver; Roadster last

Third behind Improbable and Maximum Security in the Sept. 26 Awesome Again (G1) at Santa Anita, Midcourt was under consideration for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and Dirt Mile (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 5 before connections elected to remain in California.

The John Shirreffs trainee captured the San Pasqual (G2) in February, and Midcourt counts a nose second in the San Diego (G2) at Del Mar among his four stakes placings this season, three coming against Grade 1 competition. He registered a 103 Brisnet Speed rating in the Awesome Again, easily the top last-out figure in the Native Diver field, and regular rider Victor Espinoza has the assignment.

Extra Hope returns to the stakes level following an encouraging allowance tally at Santa Anita on Sept. 26, equaling a career-best 100 Speed rating. Second in last year’s Native Diver, the 4-year-old colt headed to the sidelines for nine months before returning to action in late August. Extra Hope will make his third start back off the lengthy layoff for Richard Mandella, and Juan Hernandez will keep the mount.

Brazilian Group 1 winner Royal Ship, third and sixth in graded turf stakes in his first two U.S. starts, will switch to the main track for Mandella. Mike Smith will be up on the late runner.

Santa Anita H. (G1) upsetter Combatant, most recently third as the favorite in the Sept. 27 Tokyo City (G3), is also part of the mix. Umberto Rispoli rides for John Sadler.

Stellar Sound, a 3-year-old filly exiting a seven-length allowance romp in her first attempt for Michael McCarthy, will jump up to face older males in her second start back from the layoff. The gray daughter of Tapit recorded a third in February’s Las Virgenes (G2) in her final start for Bob Baffert, and Stellar Sound is eligible to show speed Saturday from her inside post with Tyler Baze.