Two weeks removed from the Breeders’ Cup, you’re probably ready to tackle a fresh handicapping challenge. In this case, we’ll steer you toward Saturday’s $100,000 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar, which has drawn a competitive and intriguing field.
Eight horses were entered for the 1 1/8-mile, Grade 3 race, including one — #6 Eight Rings —who competed in a Breeders’ Cup race. Just two weeks ago, the son of Empire Maker chased a fast pace in the Grade 1 Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile before weakening to finish fourth, beaten only one length for second place.
This was a deceptively strong performance from Eight Rings, considering no one was going to match strides with runaway winner Life Is Good, who led all the way in one of the most impressive performances of the Breeders’ Cup. Even in defeat, Eight Rings posted a competitive 96 Brisnet Speed rating.
Eight Rings has spent a lot of time sprinting in recent years but running long is his true forte. Two starts back, he posted a gate-to-wire win in an allowance-optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita, smashing his rivals by four lengths with a career-best 103 Brisnet Speed rating. And as a 2-year-old in 2019, Eight Rings secured his signature victory in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes, where he again led all the way to score by six lengths.
Eight Rings will have every opportunity to work out his preferred front-running trip in the Native Diver, setting the stage for victory. The only question mark is whether he can deliver a peak performance just two weeks after the Breeders’ Cup, but the fact he breezed five furlongs in a bullet :59.40 on Monday suggests Eight Rings has emerged from the Dirt Mile in fine form. With hot jockey Juan Hernandez in the saddle, Eight Rings looms as a formidable win threat.
Who are the other key contenders in the Native Diver? One is #2 Midcourt, who has placed three times against Grade 1 competition. The John Shirreffs trainee loves Del Mar and actually dominated the 2019 Native Diver by 5 3/4 lengths. He was also second by a length in the 2020 renewal.
Midcourt never fired in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita last month. He was eased late and finished last of eight. But if you draw a line through this no-show performance — his first start off a 3 1/2-month break — his form looks more encouraging. Back on June 18, Midcourt nabbed a one-mile allowance race at Santa Anita by 2 1/4 lengths, suggesting he still has the talent to compete at the graded stakes level. Returning to Del Mar might be all he needs to produce a competitive effort.
Veteran East Coast shipper #4 Bal Harbour and 2020 Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes winner #8 Kiss Today Goodbye are others with appealing credentials, but we’ll also consider the chances of #1 Established, an unheralded up-and-comer with upside for improvement. The son of Constitution has won his last two starts sprinting on the California circuit, winning allowance-optional claiming races at Del Mar and Santa Anita. Both victories produced 97 Brisnet Speed ratings, suggesting Established is fast enough to compete at this level.
Stretching out to 1 1/8 miles is largely unexplored territory for Established, although his pedigree indicates the longer trip won’t be an issue. The fact that he broke his maiden racing one mile at Indiana Grand is encouraging. With hot jockey Victor Espinoza in the saddle, Established can work out a favorable, forwardly placed trip and vie for a top-three finish at solid odds.
So how should we bet the Native Diver? If you’re playing on a small budget, I’d recommend betting Eight Rings to win and playing him on top of exacta tickets using Established and Midcourt for second place. But if you have more capital to spend (and want to pursue a bigger payday), trifecta tickets keying Eight Rings on top might be the way to go.
Wagering Strategy on a $12 Budget
$8 to win on #6 Eight Rings
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 8th race, $8 to win on 6
$2 exacta: 6 with 1,2 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 8th race, $2 exacta 6 with 1,2
Wagering Strategy on a $36 Budget
$16 to win on #6 Eight Rings
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 8th race, $16 to win on 6
$4 exacta: 6 with 1,2 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 8th race, $4 exacta 6 with 1,2
$1 trifecta: 6 with 1,2 with 1,2,4,8 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 8th race, $1 trifecta 6 with 1,2 with 1,2,4,8
$1 trifecta: 6 with 1,2,4,8 with 1,2 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Del Mar, 8th race, $1 trifecta 6 with 1,2,4,8 with 1,2
Good luck, and enjoy the race!