Who Will Win the Bob Hope Stakes?

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

Sunday's $100,000 Bob Hope S. (G3) at Del Mar isn't a Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier, and records show it hasn't produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Gato Del Sol in 1982. But there's a first time for everything, and the Bob Hope—a seven-furlong dash for juveniles—has seen the quality of its winners pick up in recent years.

The dominant trainer in the Bob Hope has been Bob Baffert. The Hall of Fame trainer has won the Bob Hope 11 times since 1996, including seven out of 11 editions since 2011. Future Grade 1 winners Mastery (2016) and Mucho Gusto (2018) have claimed top prize for Baffert, and Messier (2021) placed at the Grade 1 level before starting in the Kentucky Derby.

Seven horses have entered the 2022 Bob Hope, and three are trainer by Baffert. Sometimes it can be difficult for handicappers to separate Baffert's lightly raced horses, but in this case, #2 Havnameltdown seems like a standout.

A son of Uncaptured (who won five stakes at age two), Havnameltdown has shown talent from an early age. In his July 24 debut sprinting five furlongs at Del Mar, Havnameltdown led all the way to defeat a next-out winner by 2 1/4 lengths. Just three weeks later, Havnameltdown was back in action for Del Mar's six-furlong Best Pal S. (G3), in which he carved out fast fractions of :21.74 and :44.87 on his way to victory by 2 1/2 lengths.

Havnameltdown continued his busy summer in the Del Mar Futurity (G1), in which he stepped up to seven furlongs and ran a bold race against heavy favorite Cave Rock. Havnameltdown dueled Cave Rock through an opening quarter-mile in :21.56, stayed within a length of the lead through a blazing half-mile in :43.65, and ultimately fought on to finish clearly second best while Cave Rock prevailed in stakes-record time.

In terms of Brisnet Speed ratings, Havnameltdown towers over the Bob Hope field. He posted a 102 in the Best Pal and a 98 in the Del Mar Futurity, notable figures since none of his Sunday rivals have earned a rating higher than 94. Havnaltedown has trained sharply since the Del Mar Futurity and clearly boasts an affinity for California's seaside oval, suggesting he'll be tough to beat on Sunday. The fact Havnameltdown will be ridden by jockey Juan Hernandez is another positive, since Brisnet statistics indicate Hernandez has gone 10-for-19 (53%) teaming up with Baffert over the last 60 days.

Another logical Baffert trainee is #7 Newgate, a sharp debut winner sprinting at Del Mar who came back to finish fourth in the Del Mar Futurity. Newgate couldn't quite keep up with the intense early pace that day, racing in third position before weakening down the homestretch to finish 5 1/4 lengths behind Havnameltdown. Nor did Newgate fire his strongest shot when stretching out over 1 1/16 miles for the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland, pressing the early pace before fading to finish fifth by 7 1/4 lengths.

But Newgate has been facing formidable competition. Case in point? The Breeders' Futurity winner (Forte) came back to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1), defeating Del Mar Futurity hero Cave Rock. Dropping down in class and distance should land Newgate a spot in the Bob Hope exacta, even if turning the tables on Havnameltdown proves difficult.

The final Baffert trainee is #1 Hard to Figure, who finished third behind Newgate (beaten 4 1/2 lengths) in their mutual debut. Hard to Figure finished third again when stretching out for a one-mile maiden special weight at Del Mar, then broke his maiden in the 6 1/2-furlong Capote S. at Los Alamitos. With a career-best 85 Brisnet Speed rating, Hard to Figure looks a bit slower than his stablemates, though he's progressing in the right direction and has high-percentage jockey Flavien Prat named to ride.

It wouldn't be a shock to see Baffert trainees run 1-2-3 in the Bob Hope, but we'll try to beat Hard to Figure for third place with #6 Practical Move, a maiden winner via disqualification racing one mile at Santa Anita last month.

Despite the fact Practical Move achieved his first victory over a route distance, his sprinting form is arguably superior. In a pair of 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weights at Del Mar during the summer, Practical Move finished second behind Cave Rock and third behind National Treasure, who returned to place in the American Pharoah S. (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Practical Move's sire, Practical Joke, did his best work as a sprinter/miler, and I'm optimistic Practical Move will appreciate cutting back to seven furlongs.


1st: Havnameltdown
2nd: Newgate
3rd: Practical Move

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Bob Hope?


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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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