A day after some of the East’s top dirt fillies and mares get together at Saratoga Race Course in the Personal Ensign Stakes, the West Coast’s leading ladies will tangle Sunday in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar.
While Midnight Bisou, the division leader, will be the Spa, the Hirsch attracted a highly competitive field of six that offers a solid wagering proposition with at least four of the starters owning an excellent chance of winning and, in the process, securing a free spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
1. Hang a Star: Aside from winning just two of eight starts, she has raced beyond 6 ½ furlongs only once – and that was at seven furlongs. This seems an odd spot to make her two-turn debut, so we’ll look elsewhere for a winner.
JOCKEY: Drayden Van Dyke ; TRAINER: Ian Kruljac
2. Ce Ce: She had won back-to-back Grade 1 stakes going into the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes and was understandably bet down to a 3-5 favorite. Unfortunately for her backers, things did not go as planned. She never got rolling against a gate-to-wire winner in Fighting Mad and wound up a well-beaten third. Since then, she’s been working quickly and the prospect of a quicker pace should help her bounce back with an improved effort.
JOCKEY: Victor Espinoza; TRAINER: Michael McCarthy
3. Hard Not to Love: Was second in the Santa Maria after bobbling at the start. She opened some eyes with a decisive win in the Grade 2 Santa Monica Stakes in February and was second in two starts since then. She figures to be a major factor here and will also benefit if a lively pace battle ensues. Her trainer, John Shirreffs, definitely knows how to win this race as he racked up four wins in it, including three straight with the incredible Zenyatta.
JOCKEY: Mike Smith; TRAINER: John Shirreffs
4. Dogtag: On turf, she might be an intriguing longshot. But her lone dirt race – a third in her career debut at Saratoga - was hardly memorable. She’ll need to take a big step forward to be a contender here.
JOCKEY: Umberto Rispoli; TRAINER: Richard Mandella
5. Ollie’s Candy: She’s turned in huge efforts in her last two starts, both in Grade 1 stakes. She lost by a head in the final jump to Ce Ce in the Apple Blossom Handicap in April and finished third by a nose and a neck in the Ogden Phipps Stakes in June. She won this race on the front end last year and cannot be overlooked, but she figures to be pressed early by Fighting Mad, which could come back to haunt both of them.
JOCKEY: Flavien Prat; TRAINER: John Sadler
6. Fighting Mad: In this edition of racing’s “Believe It or Not,” she won the Santa Maria at 10-1 odds … with Bob Baffert as her trainer! Rest assured, she will not be that high this time, but an encore will not be the proverbial piece of cake. With Ollie’s Candy chasing her, she will not have an easy time of it on the front end. Her ability to set either a fast or comfortable pace promises to have a big say in the outcome.
JOCKEY: Abel Cedillo; TRAINER: Bob Baffert
THE PICK: Ce Ce
LIVE LONGSHOT: Fighting Mad