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
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
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.
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.