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2023 Del Mar Handicap Preview & FREE Picks | Gold Phoenix Leads The Charge In BC Turf Prep
Gold Phoenix winning the 2022 Del Mar Handicap (Lindsay Affleck)

2023 Del Mar Handicap Preview & FREE Picks | Gold Phoenix Leads The Charge In BC Turf Prep

Jared previews the 2023 Del Mar Handicap (G2) from Del Mar, then gives his top picks & long shots from this “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The defending race champion Gold Phoenix leads the charge following his victory in the Eddie Read Stakes (G2), the local prep for this event.

Will he give trainer Phil D’Amato his record 8th race win, all of which have come since 2014? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

It’s hard to keep a horse in form for any extended length of time. Trainers will build a horse up for a specific event in hopes they peak the day of the race. Keeping them at the top form over time is a situation that has challenged horsemen for generations.

So when trainer Philip D’Amato enters Gold Phoenix in Saturday’s G2 Del Mar Handicap and the defending champion is the morning line favorite, it’s quite a training feat, even for one of the top trainers in the country.

The G2 Del Mar Handicap is the 11th and last race on the Saturday card. Approximate post time is 6:30 p.m.

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It was one year ago that Gold Phoenix nipped Master Piece on the wire to win the mile and three-eighths turf event. He’s back to try again in this year’s race that closes out Saturday’s stakes action.

“The key is spacing the races out, that’s number one,” D’Amato says. “I don’t think you can run a good quality horse once a month. They put so much into their races. They’re the kind of horses you run six or seven times a year. You space them when appropriate and they’ll do right by you.”

Gold Phoenix has done everything right for D’Amato since coming to his barn in January of last year. He’s won five of his 14 career starts with three seconds and three thirds. The gelding has won two of his three races at Del Mar.

“The good thing about Gold Phoenix is he’s so versatile,” D’Amato says. “He won a Grade I mile earlier in the year (the Kilroe Mile), he won the mile and an eighth Eddie Read. He won the Del Mar Handicap last year at a mile and three-eighths. In a big field like that it goes a long way.”

Eleven horses are expected to go post ward in the Del Mar Handicap, a ‘Win and You’re In’ for the $4-million Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“I’ll leave it up to Juan (Hernandez) to figure out the trip,” D’Amato says, “so he’s not handcuffed to ride him in a certain style. I think he (Gold Phoenix) is a horse who can stalk, he can lay back, he can come from last. It’s just up to Juan to see how the race develops and then he’ll come up with a game plan.”

That game plan will have to include how to handle Offlee Naughty and Planetario, two talented horses who already traded placings this year. Offlee Naughty beat Planetario in the G3 San Luis Rey at Santa Anita in May only to have the tables turned in the San Juan Capistrano one month later.

“He had a lot of furlongs in a short amount of time,” trainer Michael McCarthy says of Offlee Naughty’s effort in the Capistrano. “The mile and three-quarters might have been a bit too much for him after two very solid efforts.”

Offlee Naughty had won three straight going into the San Juan Capistrano including the G2 Charles Whittingham prior to the San Luis Rey win. It’s been quite a dramatic turnaround this year marked by his moving to the west coast.

“I think the firmer turf certainly helped him here in California,” McCarthy says. “He likes this turf course. The horse is extremely game and gives it his best every time.”

Planetario is another one who has bloomed in 2023. He’s a Brazilian-bred who only ran once in 2022.

“He needed time off,” trainer Richard Mandella notes. “When he came back he was in good shape.”

After going toe-to-toe with Offlee Naughty, Mandella sent Planetario on the road. He finished fifth in the G1 United Nations on Haskell Day at Monmouth Park but Mandella isn’t so quick to draw a line through that race.

“I don’t know if you do that,” Mandella says, “but it wasn’t the race we were looking for.”

In addition to Gold Phoenix, D’Amato has two other entries, Cash Equity and Cathkin Peak. McCarthy also will run Crosby Beach, and Bob Baffert will try Azul Coast on the grass for the first time.

“I worked him on the grass,” Baffert says. “He seems like he liked it. He’s in a tough spot. I had nowhere else to run him and he’s in a position where he’s just not quite good enough to run in the Pacific Classic. If he doesn’t like the grass, we’ll know down the backside.”

Here’s the field from the rail with the jockeys and morning odds:

  1. Win the Day (Tiago Pereira, 50-1)
  2. Crosby Beach (Geovanni Franco, 15-1)
  3. None Above the Law (Joe Bravo, 15-1)
  4. Missed the Cut (Jose Valdivia, Jr. 6-1)
  5. Cathkin Peak (Antonio Fresu, 6-1)
  6. Offlee Naughty (Umberto Rispoli, 5-1)
  7. Nineeleventurbo (Ramon Vasquez, 10-1)
  8. Azul Coast (Flavien Prat, 8-1)
  9. Planetario (Hector Berrios, 4-1)
  10. Gold Phoenix (Juan Hernandez, 3-1)
  11. Cash Equity (Kent Desormeaux, 15-1)