By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
With the Del Mar meet underway and Saratoga scheduled to open on Friday, a terrific weekend of racing awaits on July 25th and 26th! One of the highlights is bound to be the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) at Del Mar, which drew a top-notch field of eight led by 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Bayern. So without further ado, let’s start handicapping!
San Diego Handicap (gr. II)
|Tiago Josue Pereira
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|Catch a Flight
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|5th Californian Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO)
|5th Triple Bend Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO)
By far the biggest question is whether or not Bayern can regain the form that carried him to four major graded stakes victories last year, including a thrilling triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over Toast of New York and California Chrome. Based off of that campaign, the Bob Baffert-trained colt was expected to have another great season this year, but so far nothing has gone according to plan. After missing the first part of the year with a quarter crack, Bayern returned to finish last of six in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) and last of ten in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). In both cases, Bayern failed to secure the early lead, which seems to be necessary for him to run his best race. The two-turn nature and the 8.5-furlong distance of the San Diego should help his chances of gaining the early lead, but he could face some pace pressure from Appealing Tale and also from Majestic City, who won the Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III) in gate-to-wire fashion before a stumble at the start of the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (gr. I) cost him any chance of setting the pace. Additionally, it’s fair to question how Bayern will respond to the new dirt track at Del Mar, which has been a rather slow and tiring surface thus far. All of Bayern’s big wins last year came on fast, generally speed-favoring tracks, while several of his poorest efforts (including last year’s Travers) came over slower, more tiring tracks. If he runs his best race, Bayern would be difficult to beat, but given the circumstances, I’m going to take a shot with a horse offering better odds.
A logical choice to pull off the upset is Hoppertunity, Bayern’s stablemate that rallied to finish second by just a nose in the ten-furlong Gold Cup at Santa Anita last time out. But while Hoppertunity is in good form and should handle the track just fine (he’s very versatile and has run well at several different tracks), it’s important to note that Hoppertunity took advantage of a very fast pace in the Gold Cup and might not get a setup that’s quite as good on Saturday.
In contrast, Catch a Flight did not get the best of trips when finishing third in the Gold Cup, as he stayed much closer to the fast pace and may have moved too early in the race. The Richard Mandella-trained runner held the lead passing the eighth pole, but tired late to finish third by 1 ¼ lengths behind the deep-closing pair of Hard Aces and Hoppertunity. He had previously won both the Californian Stakes (gr. II) and Precisionist Stakes (gr. III) at shorter distances with sharp late runs, and the cutback in distance from the Gold Cup should sharpen his stretch kick. With a trio of solid works under his belt in preparation for this race, I think all he needs is a slightly better pace setup to rebound with another top-notch effort. He is my selection to pull off the upset.
For a live longshot, you might want to take a look at Appealing Tale. Trained by Peter Miller, the son of Tale of the Cat finished second in the Triple Bend Stakes (gr. I) last time out, and while he’s been rather inconsistent in his two-turn races, he did win a one-mile allowance race by 3 ½ lengths two starts back, and earlier this year, he finished second by just 1 ¾ lengths behind Hoppertunity in the 8.5-furlong San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita. If Bayern disappoints once again and backs out of contention earlier than expected, that might just leave Appealing Tale in command of the race, and from there, he should have a strong chance to hang around for a spot in the exotics.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the San Diego 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.