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
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.
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
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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.