There are a couple of major 1 ¼-mile stakes coming up at Del Mar in the next four months. The first one arrives Aug. 21 in the form of the TVG Pacific Classic, which can propel horses to the Nov. 6 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, which offers $6 million in purse money.
To get to one of them, or both, Saturday’s San Diego Handicap will serve as an important steppingstone by giving a number of top class older horses the added value of a beneficial race on the Del Mar main track.
1. Rushie (5-1): He didn’t fare too badly in the Hollywood Gold Cup, when he was fourth. That 1 ¼-mile stakes might have been a tad too long for him and the turnback here to 1 1/16 miles should bring out an improved effort and render him into a major player here from the rail.
JOCKEY: Umberto Rispoli; TRAINER: Michael McCarthy
2. Kiss Today Goodbye (8-1): His last two starts after winning the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes were disappointing, but they were at 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles. He’s another who should appreciate the 1 1/16-mile distance here, especially since that was the distance of the San Antonio.
JOCKEY: Victor Espinoza; TRAINER: Eric Kruljac
3. Sheriff Brown (20-1): If there’s a new sheriff in town, it’s unlikely it’s Mr. Brown. He’s yet to prove he can hang in there with graded stakes company and, even if the added distance may help, he doesn’t seem fast enough to be a factor here.
JOCKEY: Edwin Maldonado; TRAINER: Todd Fincher
4. Royal Ship (9-5): After splitting two tough battles with Country Grammer, Royal Ship’s connections had to be thrilled when that rival was shipped east. This seems like a great prep for him for the Pacific Classic and it would be surprising if he wasn’t battling to the very end, which he has been doing quite well lately. He’s definitely the one to beat, though this does fit the description of a prep for bigger things for him and he may not be 100% ready for it.
JOCKEY: Mike Smith; TRAINER: Richard Mandella
5. Express Train (3-1): He’s highly consistent with third-place finishes or better in his last five starts. A win in the Grade 2 San Pasqual Stakes was the standout from that group, but that was four starts ago and he’ll need an encore of that effort to handle this field.
JOCKEY: Juan Hernandez; TRAINER: John Shirreffs
6. Mo Mesa (6-1): A lack of early speed in this race could work out in his favor. He won the Grade 3 Steve Sexton Mile after rating in third and won a 1 1/16-mile stakes before that while pressing the pace. He’s facing much tough competition here, but if the fractions are soft it could be difficult to reel him in.
JOCKEY: Ramon Vazquez; TRAINER: Mike Maker
7. Magic On Tap (12-1): He’s trainer Bob Baffert’s hope for back-to-back San Diego wins. He faded badly behind Royal Ship at 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes but then bounced back with a sharp seven-furlong win in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes at seven furlongs. Looking at the fractions he chased there, he seems capable of a much better effort than the one he issued in the Californian and could turn out to be a main contender.
JOCKEY: Abel Cedillo; TRAINER: Bob Baffert
8. Tripoli (8-1): He’s seeking a third straight win as he tackles stakes company for the first time. His last victory was impressive, especially since it was his dirt debut, but given the class jump from the allowance ranks, it more likely that he will bounce than jump into the winner’s circle.
JOCKEY: Tiago Pereira; TRAINER: John Sadler
9. Heywoods Beach (20-1): Like stablemate Tripoli, he exited an impressive allowance win for Sadler then moved into a graded stakes, where he was fifth in the Gold Cup. Given the possibility of a bounce after the allowance win, there’s a chance he could take a step forward and perhaps be more competitive than his more fancied stablemate in this spot. The outside post doesn’t help his cause, though.
JOCKEY: Trevor McCarthy; TRAINER: John Sadler
THE PICK: Rushie
LIVE LONGSHOT: Magic On Tap