The Grade 3, $100,000 Bob Hope Stakes brings together a group of six aspiring 2-year-olds at Del Mar, with four of them trying a stakes for the first time. For many of these the Bob Hope could be a steppingstone to the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity next month. The Los Alamitos Futurity is on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" in which the top four horses earn important points that will determine who can run in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Among this group, Strongconstitution finished second in the Sunny Slope Stakes so has the best credentials in terms of class. However, any of the other five could succeed as well because 2-year-olds can improve mightily between one race and the next. Zimba Warrior finished third, 5 ¼ lengths behind Strongconstitution in the Sunny Slope. The other four all won their most recent race – Howbeit earning his second career win last month while High Velocity, Rager, and Thousand Words each earned wins in their career debuts.
Rager earned a 92 Equibase Speed Figure winning in his first start a few weeks back on the turf at Santa Anita Park. As a son of Into Mischief I don't have any concerns about running as well or better on dirt because a STATS Race Lens statistic shows sons and daughters of Into Mischief have won 19 dirt sprint stakes races for 2-year-olds (from 93 starts) in the past five years. Perhaps better still, more than half (49) of those horses have finished in the money. Looking at how Strongconstitution improved from a similar 92 figure in his debut to a 101 figure when beaten a neck in the Sunny Slope Stakes in his second start, if Rager improves similarly, he could emerge a stakes winner.
High Velocity also won in his debut and with a moderately strong 93 figure as well. The win came on the dirt last month at Santa Anita. In that effort, High Velocity showed the maturity of a horse who had raced before although it was his first start. Stalking the pacesetter in second for the opening half-mile, High Velocity went by easily to draw off by two lengths at the end. Sons and daughters of Quality Road have held their own and then some in stakes races as evidenced by a STATS Race Lens statistic which shows they have won seven of 22 dirt sprint stakes races for 2-year-olds so there is little doubt High Velocity can improve off the experience of a race and run well enough to win the Bob Hope Stakes.
Strongconstitution earned a 101 figure in the Sunny Slope and must be respected as a contender as he was beaten just a neck in a photo and finished five lengths clear of the third horse, Zimba Warrior (90 figure). Thousand Words earned the best figure of any horse in the field, 105, when rallying from fourth to win in his debut last month and certainly can win with a similar effort. Thousand Words, as well as High Velocity, are trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Bob Hope five times in the last eight years including last year with Mucho Gusto. Howbeit rounds out the field. He is the only entrant with two career wins, the best of which earned a 90 figure.