The Grade 2, $200,000 Seabiscuit Handicap Saturday at Del Mar brings together a big field of 13 turf horses from around North America in what should be an extraordinary race to watch and to wager on.
There should be no clear-cut favorite among the group and many horses should offer betting value. Leading the field in career purse earnings with more than $1.8 million is Next Shares, who posted the 27-1 upset winning the 2019 Seabiscuit Handicap but is winless this year in six races. Close at hand in terms of career accomplishments is Bowies Hero, who has earned more than $1.5 million with his last big win coming in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile in 2019. Next, we move to My Boy Jack, who has banked more than three-quarters of a million. Starting his career on dirt, My Boy Jack was a top 3-year-old in 2018 who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby before going on the sidelines in the fall of 2019 and making his return to the races in this race. Flavius appears to be a strong contender, having won the Tourist Mile Stakes in September before a troubled effort in the Shadwell Turf Mile. Then there is a trio of Grade 3 winners hoping to step up to this Grade 2 level. Anothertwistafate is one of those and he’s trying turf for the first time having recently returned from 16 months off to win the Grade 3 Longacres Mile Handicap Sept. 10. Count Again won the Grade 3 Singspiel Stakes in September before a fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer Stakes Presented by Pattison, so he appears to fit nicely here. Blitzkrieg started his career in the United States before spending last winter in Dubai then returning stateside in May. In his second start back from a layoff, Blitzkrieg won the Grade 3 American Stakes and he was most recently fourth in the Grade 2 City of Hope Mile after setting sizzling fractions from the start. In terms of recent success, One Bad Boy enters the Seabiscuit off a win in the Lure Stakes last month, in which Majestic Eagle was second. Camino Del Paraiso just won the Rolling Green Stakes and Joseph T. Grace Stakes in succession and was second in the Grade 3 Thunder Road Stakes in February, so he could be in the thick of the action again. Spirit Animal, one of two from the barn of Chad Brown (the other is Flavius) has won two of three this year and is stepping up from allowance company, having finished fifth in his only previous stakes try. Imperador, who won a pair of Group 1 races in his native Argentina, made his North American debut last month and finished second so he could improve. Tartini, who has been racing against easier foes but won his last two races, rounds out the field.
To be honest, there are a number of horses who can run well enough to win this year’s Seabiscuit Handicap, but in this case I’m going to concentrate on three I think stick out just a bit against the rest. They are Blitzkrieg, Flavius, and Imperador.
Although it appears on paper both Blitzkrieg and One Bad Boy can only win when they lead from the start, and therefore there will be an early pace battle of epic proportions, I do not believe that to be the case. One Bad Boy, who hails from the Richard Baltas barn, the same as Next Shares, is the one who is more likely to lead early as he breaks from post-position 10. That puts Blitzkrieg in the catbird seat, and looking at many of his earlier races that will work out well. Before leaving California for Dubai this past winter, Blitzkrieg showed the ability to relax in the early stages, such as when winning the San Francisco Stakes with a rock-solid 111 Equibase Speed Figure. Perhaps overmatched when returned to trainer Doug O’Neill’s base in Southern California and placed in the Shoemaker Mile, Blitzkrieg returned to stakes-winning form in the American Stakes in June, duplicating the 111 figure earned 14 months earlier. Two races later, he set a nearly unbelievable early pace in the Tourist Mile when he ran the opening six furlongs in 1:07.86 before tiring to sixth behind eventual winner Flavius. Then, last month in the City of Hope Mile, Blitzkrieg once again went too fast early for his own good, running the opening six furlongs in 1:08.76. Still, Blitzkrieg was beaten by only a head for third and earned a career-best 114 speed figure. In the Seabiscuit, with red hot jockey Abel Cedillo riding back after getting familiar with him and with One Bad Boy able to provide a solid target, Blitzkrieg should be able to pass the tiring leader in the stretch and hold off the others for the upset win.
If the early pace scenario above does not pan out, particularly if Blitzkrieg and One Bad Boy can’t avoid battling for the early lead on sizzling fast fractions, Flavius appears most likely to pass them for the win. After returning from six months off and finishing third with a 109 Equibase Speed Figure when beaten by less than a length in the First Defence Stakes in June, Flavius won the Tourist Mile Stakes. That race doesn’t carry a graded designation yet but it will, considering the $712,000 purse and the quality of the field. Putting that in perspective, the 115 speed figure Flavius earned in the Tourist Mile is better than the 111 figure 2019 Seabiscuit winner Next Shares earned. Returning one month later in the Shadwell Turf Mile, Flavius found himself in traffic at a critical stage in the stretch run and lost any chance he had to win, eventually finishing fifth. Getting a jockey change to leading North American rider Irad Ortiz Jr. and with plenty of pace to run at just like he had in the Tourist Mile, Flavius could be in high gear and rally for the win in the Seabiscuit Handicap.
Imperador is an intriguing horse who is very likely to go to post at high odds. Winner of three of eight races in his native Argentina, Imperador made his U.S. debut in September at Churchill Downs in a third-level allowance race and ended up second, beaten by a half-length. However, Imperador ran the same kind of race that day I expect Blitzkrieg may run today as he sat in second from the start before making up 2 1/2 lengths to lead in the stretch. In this case Imperador was passed late, but not only was he extremely game in holding second by a neck at the finish line, he should be more physically fit in his second start back from six months off. Based in Kentucky with trainer Paulo Lobo, Imperador reminds me of another one of the trainer’s top turf stars, Ivar, who posted the 14-1 upset in the Shadwell Turf Mile in October, beating Flavius and Bowies Hero in the process.
The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Anothertwistafate (105), Bowies Hero (118), Camino Del Paraiso (113), Count Again (108), Majestic Eagle (113), My Boy Jack (110), Next Shares (115), One Bad Boy (112), Spirit Animal (113) and Tartini (101).
Win Contenders, in preference order: