'Princess' Looks Tough in Delaware Handicap

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

There’s plenty of major racing action to look forward to this Saturday, but there’s no question that—from a sporting perspective—the biggest race of the day is the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. I) at Delaware Park, a ten-furlong race that has become a major early-summer goal for the best fillies and mares in the country.

On the surface, this year’s Delaware Handicap does not appear to be a very good betting race. The presence of four-time grade I winner Princess of Sylmar (fresh off a head defeat in the grade I Ogden Phipps and expected to be an odds-on favorite here) has resulted in just five other horses entering the race, none of them grade I winners. Given the enormous advantage that Princess of Sylmar has on paper, anything less than a victory would be an upset of epic magnitude. Not only has Princess of Sylmar previously won a grade I race at this distance—while none of her rivals have ever run farther than nine furlongs—her ability to adapt to different pace scenarios should help her work out a great trip.

However, while Princess of Sylmar looks extremely difficult to beat, some of the other well-regarded contenders may have holes in their armor, offering value to handicappers that look past the obvious in exactas and trifectas. For example, take 3-1 shot Molly Morgan. Last time out, she romped to a four-length victory in the nine-furlong Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, easily trouncing grade I winner On Fire Baby and the talented Fiftyshadesofhay. For her effort, she received a career-best Beyer speed figure of 97.

Based off that performance, Molly Morgan seems like a very logical candidate to round out the exacta behind Princess of Sylmar. But there are a few things that worry me. First off, Molly Morgan got an absolute dream trip in the Fleur de Lis, saving ground all the way and bursting through an opening on the rail as the field turned for home. In addition, her domination of the race was aided by the fact that On Fire Baby completely failed to fire (she finished fifth by 14 ¼ lengths), and Fiftyshadesofhay could only manage a weak third, well below her usual level of performance. Furthermore, Molly Morgan—who had already run twenty times prior to the Fleur de Lis—had never previously recorded a Beyer figure higher than 89. With this in mind, I would be surprised if Molly Morgan replicates her Fleur de Lis performance this Saturday.

Another contender that may prove to be an underlay is Flashy American, who is 7-2 on the morning line. She is an admirable mare, and one that I would love to own, but she has shown time and time again to be more of a listed stakes/grade III competitor than a grade I/grade II filly, and typically finds a few fillies better than she every time she steps up in class. Last time out, she finished second to Molly Morgan in the Fleur de Lis, and while she could certainly close that gap today, it’s difficult to envision her finishing much better than third in this spot.

So if I don’t like Molly Morgan and Flashy American to round out the exacta, who do I like? The mare I’m looking at is the 10-1 shot Belle Gallantey. After being nothing more than a claiming/allowance horse for the first thirty-six starts of her career, Belle Gallantey was claimed by Rudy Rodriguez in December 2013, and the result of that claim has been astonishing. In her first start for Rodriguez, Belle Gallantey won an allowance race by 6 ½ lengths, then won two more allowance races in equally impressive fashion. Off of these performances, Belle Gallantey was entered in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at Belmont Park against Princess of Sylmar, Close Hatches, and Beholder—considered to be the best three fillies in the country at this time. While Belle Gallantey could only manage a fifth-place finish that day, she was by no means disgraced, being beaten just 1 ¾ lengths despite encountering some traffic in the homestretch. Off of this performance, Belle Gallantey must be considered a prime contender for the exotics, and—who knows? Should Princess of Sylmar fail to unleash her best performance, Belle Gallantey may very well be capable of pulling off an upset at a respectable price.

So, I’ll take Princess of Sylmar on top of a trifecta with Belle Gallantey in second and Flashy American and Molly Morgan in third. I may also try an exacta with Belle Gallantey on top of Princess of Sylmar, just in case Belle Gallantey takes another step forward on Saturday.

Who do you like this weekend?

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