Will These Del Mar Specialists Factor at the Breeders' Cup?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Pre-entries for the 2021 Breeders' Cup were released on Wednesday, which means handicappers are busy pouring over past performances for the two-day Del Mar extravaganza.

While a proven affinity for Del Mar isn't a prerequisite for winning Breeders' Cup races, it certainly doesn't hurt. In reviewing the pre-entries, I've come across a handful of Del Mar specialists who may be capable of parlaying their stellar seaside form into career-defining victories in the Nov. 5-6 championships.

Let's explore their credentials:

Dr. Shivel (Breeders' Cup Sprint)

Most folks will be all over Jackie's Warrior as the most likely winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), and I'll probably be among them. After all, Jackie's Warrior has won three times at the Grade 1 level and just keeps getting faster, arriving at Del Mar off an effortless 6 3/4-length romp in the Gallant Bob S. (G2).

But I can't blame anyone who wishes to take a shot against Jackie's Warrior with local horse-for-the-course Dr. Schivel. The son of Violence boasts an unblemished 3-for-3 record at Del Mar, including a comfortable score over future graded stakes winner Spielberg in the 2020 Del Mar Futurity (G1).

Dr. Schivel picked up a second Grade 1 win earlier this summer at Del Mar, when he rallied gamely to beat Grade 1 winner Eight Rings and 2020 Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up C Z Rocket by a neck. He then proved this effort wasn't a fluke by coming back to beat Grade 1 winner Flagstaff by 3 1/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2).

A versatile three-year-old capable of winning with any running style, Dr. Schivel clearly loves Del Mar and will be dangerous if he takes another step forward in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Unlike Jackie's Warrior. Dr. Schivel has already defeated older horses three times, so we know he's capable of competing outside his age group. Surely a top-three finish (or even victory) is within reach?

Ginobili (Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile)

With his 3-for-4 record over the Del Mar main track, Ginobili clearly has what it takes to handle the local surface. A maiden winner at Del Mar during the summer of 2019, Ginobili went nearly two years without visiting the winner's circle. But returning to the Del Mar dirt earlier this summer triggered a massive turnaround for Ginobili.

Indeed, Ginobili was tons the best in a one-mile allowance optional claimer on July 17. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Ginobili tracked a sub-:22 opening quarter mile before drawing away through fast fractions to smash his pursuers by 9 3/4 lengths. He was just as impressive in the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien S. (G2) on Aug. 28 at Del Mar, dueling for the early lead before kicking away to beat C Z Rocket and Flagstaff by 1 3/4 lengths.

Ginobili has been training up a storm since the Pat O'Brien, cranking out fast workouts like clockwork at the San Luis Rey Training Center. Four furlongs in :47 4/5... five furlongs in 1:00 4/5... six furlongs in 1:11 3/5... five furlongs in :57 1/5... six furlongs in 1:13 flat. The last three moves were all bullets, so it seems safe to assume Ginobili is being cranked for a peak effort in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

There are some talented horses pre-entered in the Dirt Mile, including Kelso Handicap (G2) winner Life Is Good and Metropolitan Handicap (G1) hero Silver State. But Ginobili's improving form and obvious affinity for the Del Mar main track may be sufficient to tip the scales in his favor.

Mo Forza (Breeders' Cup Mile)

Technically, Mo Forza didn't start off life as an unbeatable Del Mar specialist. The son of Uncle Mo actually lost his first three starts over the local lawn, though he did finish second twice and never lost by more than one length.

The good news is, Mo Forza has gotten better with age and enters the Breeders' Cup Mile with eight wins from his line nine starts, including a trio of graded wins at Del Mar. Triumphs in the 2019 Hollywood Derby (G1) and 2020 Del Mar Mile Handicap (G2) were impressive, but arguably Mo Forza's best Del Mar performance came in the 2021 Del Mar Mile Handicap. Returning from a long layoff, the five-year-old miler settled as many as 4 1/2 lengths behind a slow pace before exploding down the homestretch to beat Grade 1 winners Smooth Like Strait and Hit the Road by a head.

Mo Forza showed a similarly stellar turn-of-foot in the City of Hope Mile (G2) at Santa Anita earlier this month, gaining 3 1/2 lengths through the final furlong to again defeat Smooth Like Strait and Hit the Road. His margin of victory was a slightly more decisive half-length, possibly the result of encountering significantly faster pace fractions than in the Del Mar Mile Handicap.

If Mo Forza receives another suitably fast pace in the Breeders' Cup Mile—and there's no reason to think he won't—I'm confident he'll be in the hunt for victory. His proven ability to excel over the Del Mar lawn is an asset not to be underestimated.

Now it's you turn! Do you think we'll see any Del Mar specialists visit the winner's circle during the Breeders' Cup?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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