By J. Keeler Johnson (“Keelerman”) @J_Keelerman
Another great weekend of racing awaits on July 18th and 19th, with eight graded stakes races on schedule across the U.S. and Canada. One of the highlights is undoubtedly the $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. I) at Delaware Park, a ten-furlong race for fillies and mares that has drawn a very intriguing field of seven. Let’s take a look at who’s running!
Delaware Handicap (gr. I)
||1st Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||5th Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||4th Obeah Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Iowa Distaff Stakes (VIDEO)|
||2nd Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)|
||4th Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)|
||2nd Obeah Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO)|
In most cases, seven-horse fields are relatively easy to handicap, but this year’s Delaware Handicap appears to be an exception. Although five of the seven starters are graded stakes winners (and the other two listed stakes winners), as a whole they are a rather inconsistent group, and it can be difficult to predict when they’re going to run well and when they’re not.
Case in point—take Frivolous. The five-year-old daughter of Empire Maker had lost six straight races entering the 2014 Fall City Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, then scored by a half-length in a 19-1 upset. Two more defeats followed to open 2015—including a 20 ¼-length loss in the La Troinne Stakes (gr. I) at Churchill Downs—before she pulled a 32-1 upset in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) last time out. A repeat of her Fleur de Lis effort would put her right in the mix, but she’s never won back-to-back races in her career—can she do it today while stretching out in distance?
Then there’s America. She competed in several graded stakes races last year but was soundly beaten in all of them. But when the Bill Mott-trainee dropped into allowance company at Aqueduct last December, she won two straight races by the combined margin of 8 ½ lengths, then stepped up into stakes company and won the Affectionately Stakes by a nose. With three consecutive victories under her belt, it looked like she was on the rise, but after a four-month break, she returned to finish seventh by ten lengths in the La Troinne Stakes (gr. I) and fifth by 5 ¼ lengths in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II). As a daughter of A.P. Indy, she should be able to handle the distance of the Delaware Handicap, but her career-best Beyer speed figure is only an 88—can she improve enough in her third start off the layoff to get in the mix?
Fortune Pearl is in the same boat. She’s proven over this track, having won the Delaware Oaks (gr. II) last year, and one start later, she ran well to be beaten just 2 ½ lengths in the ten-furlong Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. But after opening 2015 with a solid allowance win at Keeneland, Fortune Pearl was soundly beaten when seventh in the Allaire DuPont Distaff (gr. III) at Pimlico and could only finish fourth last time out in the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware. Can she take a step forward while coming off two of the worst races of her career, especially considering that her best Beyer is only an 84?
How about Flashy American? She finished a solid third in this race last year but went off-form thereafter, finishing no better than fourth in her final four starts of the year. It looked like she was back on track when she finished second by a neck in the Bayakoa Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn to open 2015, but then she was last over a sloppy track in the Azeri Stakes (gr. II) before coming off a 3 ½-month layoff to run second in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows. At first glance, her form looks inconsistent, but it’s important to note that she doesn’t seem to care for wet, sealed tracks, as she has been soundly beaten in her last four races in such conditions, which gives her an excuse for her poor showing in the Azeri.
Rosalind also has confusing form. A grade I winner on Polytrack and a grade II winner on turf, she’s 0-for-5 on dirt and was beaten 7 ¾ lengths last time out in the Ogden Phipps (gr. I) at Belmont Park, but unlike most of her rivals, she’s proven that she can handle longer distances, at least on turf. Can she do it on dirt?
Then there’s Joint Return, who won a pair of listed stakes races last year—including one at Delaware Park—but brings a six-race losing streak into the Delaware Oaks. She showed signs of improvement when rallying to finish second in the Obeah Stakes (gr. III) last time out, but was still beaten three lengths, and her career-best Beyer is only an 87.
Are you confused yet? I certainly am, which is why it’s tempting to side with Sheer Drama for the top spot. The 2-1 morning line favorite has finished first or second in each of her last five starts, including four graded stakes races, and her career-best Beyer of 99 tops the field. But last time out, she was beaten 1 ½ lengths by Frivolous in the Fleur de Lis, and the way she flattened out in the homestretch and lost ground from the eighth pole to the wire (a tendency she has shown in the past as well) suggests that she might not care for the distance of the Delaware Handicap.
In all honesty, I find this race to be among the most intriguing I’ve handicapped in a while, thanks to the evenly-matched nature of the field and the challenge of trying to predict which fillies are ready for peak efforts and which are not. In the end, I’m going to take a try with Flashy American. The veteran of 35 starts has run plenty of nice races going nine furlongs and, as mentioned above, ran very well in this race last year against a couple of multiple grade I winners in Belle Gallantey and Princess of Sylmar. That has been her only start at ten furlongs so far, but her overall form at nine furlongs suggests that she will handle the extra eighth of a mile just fine, and if you exclude her races on sealed tracks, she actually hasn’t run a bad race in a long time. She also picks up the services of Hall of Fame rider Edgar Prado, and starting from post four, she should be able to work out a nice trip settling just off the pace while saving some ground.
For the exotics, I’ll take a close look at Sheer Drama for her overall consistency and strong speed figures, as well as America and Joint Return, who should see out the distance better than most. However, I’ll take a stand against Frivolous, who took advantage of a speed bias on the day of the Fleur de Lis, and Rosalind, who appears to be better on turf and synthetic.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the Delaware Handicap?
Just for fun, here are a few race replays that I thought everyone might enjoy:
To help keep track of all the Breeders' Cup prep races, here is the link to Bloodhorse.com's Breeders' Cup news page. Also, here is the link to the currrent standings, entries, rules, and schedule for our "Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic" Handicapping Challenge.
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.