The 76th running of the Grade 1, $300,000 Hollywood Derby at Del Mar could be a repeat of the Grade 2 Twilight Derby, run just four weeks ago, or of the Grade 3 Del Mar Derby, run in September. Both those 1 1/8-mile stakes races for 3-year-olds were won by Sharp Samurai, who won the Grade 3 La Jolla Stakes and the Rainbow Stakes prior to that. Eight horses line up to try to derail Sharp Samurai in the Hollywood Derby, with two in from New York having a chance to post the upset among the group. One of those is Mo Town, who won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes on dirt last year as a 2- year-old then went on a four- race losing streak before trying turf and winning decisively in his most recent race. The other is Souper Tapit, who won the Grade 3 Marine Stakes on an all-weather surface in May before a pair of races in which he had a lot of traffic trouble.
Bowies Hero won the Oceanside Stakes on the Del Mar turf in July but was no match when third behind Sharp Samurai in two races since then. Big Score finished second behind Sharp Samurai in his last two races and may be a threat to the likely favorite, while Ritzy A.P. has run three good races in a row since adding blinkers, albeit none of those at this stakes level. The other three entrants in the Hollywood Derby – Ann Arbor Eddie, Channel Maker and Just Howard, were soundly defeated by Sharp Samurai in the Twilight Derby.
Mo Town was highly regarded as a two year old, winning his second career start in September 2016 by seven lengths then winning the prestigious Remsen Stakes easily by 2 ½ lengths. After poor efforts to start his three-year-old campaign in the Risen Star Stakes (fifth) and in the Wood Memorial Stakes (seventh), Mo Town was given four months off to mature. Returning in August, he finished fourth, then third before trying turf for the first time last month, taking to turf like a duck takes to water with a strong 6 ½ -length victory. Not only did that win earn Mo Town a career-best 113 Equibase Speed Figure, that was a stakes quality effort as that figure equaled the career-best effort Sharp Samurai put forth to win the Twilight Derby. With a very visually impressive turn of foot shown on the far turn, going from three lengths back to three lengths in front by the time the field straightened for home, and against a slow early pace, Mo Town demonstrated enough ability to win a stakes like this one on the grass. He has the added benefit, albeit a small one, of facing just 3-year-olds after beating 3- year-olds and older horses last month.
Souper Tapit, like Mo Town and Sharp Samurai, is also a stakes winner. He won the Marine Stakes in May on the all-weather surface at Woodbine. That was his first try on that surface, and he's only raced on turf since. In both those grass starts, Souper Tapit had significant traffic trouble, but it was the trouble in his most recent race that was highly notable. In his most recent race on Nov. 11, Souper Tapit was in a perfect position on the far turn but was completely surrounded and had no place to go as other horses around him accelerated. Even when the field turned into the stretch, Souper Tapit and jockey Jose Lezcano could do nothing to find a path to run as he was completely boxed in. Finally getting a clear path to run in the final yards, Souper Tapit stretched his legs and rallied from sixth to third. Having earned a 106 Equibase figure in the Marine, it might be assumed, if not for trouble in two starts since, Souper Tapit may have improved to the same 113 figure level of Mo Town and Sharp Samurai. As such, with a clean trip Souper Tapit could very well post the upset in the Hollywood Derby.
It is indisputably tough to take a horse on a four-race winning streak like Sharp Samurai is and to list him as the third win contender in this year's Hollywood Derby. Coming off a career-best 113 figure and having won three similar graded stakes on turf for 3-year-olds in a row, Sharp Samurai has proven to be a very tough foe. Sharp Samurai beat five of the other eight entrants in this race when victorious in the Twilight Derby and there's no reason to think any of those can turn the tables on him in this situation. Only the two horses that have never faced him, Mo Town and Souper Tapit, who have won with figures that are either competitive with Sharp Samurai (in the case of Mo Town) or that project to be competitive with Sharp Samurai without traffic trouble (in the case of Souper Tapit), appear to have a legitimate shot to beat him if he repeats his Twilight Derby effort (or improves upon it).
The rest of the Hollywood Derby field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Ann Arbor Eddie (105), Big Score (108), Bowies Hero (108), Channel Maker (107), Just Howard (109), and Ritzy A.P. (110).
Win contenders, in preference order:
Contender for exacta and trifecta wagers: