Elate Looks Tough to Beat in Delaware Handicap

Although Saturday's $750,000 Delaware Handicap (gr. II) at Delaware Park has been downgraded from Grade 1 status for Saturday's renewal (given the list of recent winners, I'm not sure why!), the 1 ¼-mile race has nevertheless attracted a Grade 1-worthy field that should be among the highlights of the weekend.

Nine fillies and mares have been entered, though one—the front-running Farrell—is expected to scratch, leaving the longshots Proper Discretion and Nikki My Darling as the most likely pacesetters. Since both are owned by Loooch Racing Stables—which has also entered the Grade 1-placed late runner Fuhriously Kissed—it would come as no surprise to see Proper Discretion and Nikki My Darling carve out a quick pace early on in an effort to aid their more heralded stablemate.

However, a quick pace could also lead to a picture-perfect trip for the 2-1 morning line favorite Elate, a filly that I've been fond of ever since she won her debut by a dozen lengths back in November 2016. Trained by Bill Mott, who won the Delaware Handicap in 2012 and 2013 with Royal Delta, Elate showed promise early in her three-year-old season, but really put everything together during the second half of the season. After finishing second by a head behind future champion Abel Tasman in the Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) at Saratoga, Elate rattled off back-to-back blowout wins in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) and Beldame Invitational (gr. I) before finishing fourth with a somewhat difficult trip in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).

Elate hasn't run since the Breeders' Cup, but she's been breezing steadily since early May and should be fit enough to fire a good run off the layoff. There's certainly a lot to like about her chances on Saturday—she proved in the Alabama that she can negotiate ten furlongs just fine, and her easy win in the Light Hearted Stakes at Delaware Park last June shows that she likes this track. Take note—five of the ten fillies and mares that have won the Delaware Handicap since 2007 had previously won or contested the Alabama Stakes, and the majority had already run at Delaware Park.

Elate's preferred running style is to settle in about mid-pack, a few lengths off the pace, so a contested early pace could play to her strengths and allow her to settle comfortably behind the leaders before taking command when the real running begins. I'm expecting another big season from Elate and believe she'll be tough to beat at a short price in the Delaware Handicap.

The four-time graded stakes winner Unbridled Mo looms as the most likely upsetter, though she would likely need to take a step forward to contend against Elate if the latter brings her A-game. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Unbridled Mo's strongest effort to date came when she upset champion Unique Bella in Oaklawn's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) in April, though Unbridled Mo did benefit from a wet track (which she appears to relish) and a favorable pace setup—Unique Bella broke slowly, got rank early on, and compromised her own chances, setting the race up for late runners such as Unbridled Mo.

Subsequently, Unbridled Mo could only finish third in the Ogden Phipp Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park, though that race was held around one turn and Unbridled Mo seems clearly better going two turns. Then again, the ten-furlong distance of the Delaware Handicap is a question mark (the majority of her races have come going 8.5 furlongs or shorter) and she might be over bet a bit off her perfect-trip win in the Apple Blossom. She's an obvious candidate to round out the exacta behind Elate, but I don't think she's as likely a winner as the favorite.

The consistent Mopotism has run pretty much every month dating back to November 2016 and has competed in thirteen straight graded stakes races, including eight Grade 1 events—that's an admirable feat in and of itself! She doesn't win often, but she's nabbed major checks in some important races while traveling from coast to coast, most recently finishing third in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs last month. A similar result on Saturday would come as no surprise; a win, on the other hand, could be considered a more meaningful upset than her 9-2 morning line odds suggest.

Teresa Z and Sneaky Betty finished first and third in the nine-furlong Obeah Stakes at Delaware last month, the local prep for the Delaware Handicap. Teresa Z was quite impressive while drawing off to win by 2 ¾ lengths, so even though her previous attempts at the Grade 1 level have resulted in disappointing efforts, she appears to be coming up to Saturday's race in career-best form and could upset one of the higher-regarded contenders to finish on the board.

But if you're looking for a real longshot to sneak into the exotics, why not consider Sneaky Betty? She was no match for Teresa Z in the Obeah, but as a deep closer, the modest early pace didn't really play to her strengths. A faster pace in the Delaware Handicap could significantly enhance the chances of this consistent filly, who hasn't finished out of the trifecta in her last seven starts. The ten-furlong distance could also be beneficial; as a daughter of Mineshaft, there's a good chance that Sneaky Betty will appreciate the added distance, and for good measure she'll carry just 112 pounds, the lightest assignment in the field. At 20-1, I think she's worth including in the trifecta and superfecta.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Delaware Handicap?


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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.

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