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Del Mar Handicap Preview: United Ready to Fly Under the Friendly Southern California Skies
United after winning the Charles Whittingham (Credit: Benoit Photo)

Del Mar Handicap Preview: United Ready to Fly Under the Friendly Southern California Skies

DEL MAR, CA – LNJ Foxwoods’ United, runner-up in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Longines Turf (G1), appears ready to again fly under the friendly southern California skies in Saturday’s $200,000 Del Mar Handicap Presented by the Japan Racing Association (G2).

The winner of the Del Mar Handicap will receive an automatic position in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Longines Turf (G1) this fall at Keeneland. Pre-entry and entry fees will be paid and a nominator award of $10,000 will be given to the nominating person. Also, all Breeders’ Cup starters based outside of the state of Kentucky will receive a travel allowance of $10,000 if based in North America and $40,000 if based Internationally.

The Del Mar Handicap is a 1 3/8-mile, three-turn turf route open to horses ages 3 and up. The 2020 edition attracted a diverse group of 11 males that includes 5 graded stakes winners.

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Let’s look at the full field:

#1 United – He finished within a head of the 2019 Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Longines Turf (G1) and has won all 3 starts this season, each coming in a southern California-based Grade 2 turf route. Top jockey Flavien Prat retains the mount for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, who in 2010 saddled the winning Champ Pegasus, that year’s eventual Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up.

#2 Another Mystery – He makes his southern California debut for new trainer Michael McCarthy in this spot after failing to hit the board in his last 3 starts. He has several recent works over the local lawn under his belt and has the right connections to spring an upset at a price: McCarthy and jockey Victor Espinoza have won 6 of their past 30 shared mounts while garnering a $5.08 ROI in that span.

#3 Combatant – The field’s only Grade 1 winner earned that distinction with a neck score over the dirt in the Santa Anita Handicap this past March. He did not win any of his 8 prior turf starts, but he recently fired a bullet best-of-10 4-furlong work in :49 over this course, and trainer John Sadler has won this event twice: in 2011 with Celtic New Year and 2013 with Vagabond Shoes.

#4 Big Buzz – His current connections claimed him 2 starts back for $40k and he immediately paid dividends, winning a local 1 1/16-mile starter allowance while setting the pace for the first time in his career. With aggressive gate jockey Edwin Maldonado keeping the mount for trainer Adam Kitchingham, expect him to race up front early and try to hold them all off in his stakes debut.

#5 Ward ’n Jerry – The longer, the better for this California-bred, whose 6 wins include 4 when running at least 1 1/4 miles on his home state’s turf courses. He finished third, beaten a neck, in the local 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) last December and won the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park in March, but in order to contend, he needs to reverse his recent form when beaten 4 1/2 and 5 lengths against lesser competition.

#6 Proud Pedro – Like the foe directly to his inside, he seems to relish extended turf races after defeating optional claiming rivals in his past 2 lengthy grass efforts. His most recent start was a victory over this same course and distance on July 24 that marked his first pairing with jockey Juan Hernandez, who keeps the mount. Trainer Leonard Powell successfully repeats at a 25% rate in the past five years with last-out winners.

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#7 Red King – He was a runaway 4 1/4-length winner of the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park last time out, his first time with Umberto Rispoli in the irons. That effort and his connections make him dangerous here: Rispoli sits atop the Del Mar jockey standings (through August 17) and trainer Phil D’Amato has won this race 5 of the past 6 years, with his lone defeat in that span coming by just a nose.

#8 New Year – He rattled off 3 straight victories earlier this year, all while running for a tag at Gulfstream Park. He most recently finished eighth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, in the local mile-long Wickerr Stakes and has since worked well over this course, but he picked a tough spot to make his first attempt beyond 1 1/16 miles.

#9 Oscar Dominguez – He won the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) over this course last December, narrowly defeating a pair of rivals whom he faces again here. The first of two entries from the Richard Baltas barn, he was a length back in second in last year’s Del Mar Handicap and this marks his second start back from a lengthy layoff after finishing a non-threatening seventh in the TVG Elkhorn Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.

#10 Originaire – He earned back-to-back 100 Beyer speed figures earlier this season, including 2 starts back in the 1 1/4-mile Charles Whittingham Stakes (G2) when he was just a 1/2-length behind United. He was fifth in the local Eddie Read Stakes (G2) last month while going just 1 1/8 miles, but he should appreciate stretching back out to a longer distance while getting Abel Cedillo aboard for the first time.

#11 North County Guy – The second Richard Baltas runner was second, 3/4 of a length behind Proud Pedro over this course and distance last time out while making his first start in five months. He defeated optional claiming rivals in an identical race last fall and reunites with Mario Gutierrez, who piloted him to that victory and has a 24% success rate since 2019 when teaming with Baltas.

The Del Mar Handicap serves as race 7 on a Saturday card that features five stakes at the seaside oval, including the TVG Pacific Classic (G1), a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” for the Longines Classic. The American-based “Win and You’re In” events continue Saturday at Saratoga with the Fourstardave Handicap (TVG Mile).

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series is presented by America’s Best Racing.

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