DEL MAR, CA – Jay Em Ess Stable homebred Extra Hope – second in last year’s edition before missing 9 months – appears to be back on track and ready for his biggest challenge of the year in Saturday’s $100,000 Native Diver Stakes (G3) at Del Mar.
The Native Diver is a 1 1/8-mile dirt route open to horses ages 3 and up. This year’s edition is the second event on a 9-race card and has a local post time of 1:00 PM.
Here’s a look at the full field for the Native Diver:
1. Combatant 8/1 – Which Combatant will show up – the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner from the pre-Covid era, or the version who failed to finish within 8 lengths of the winner in 4 subsequent starts? Hronis Racing entered this son of Scat Daddy in the Keeneland November 2020 sale but opted to keep him in training. Time will tell if that was the right move.
2. Stellar Sound 6/1 – The field’s lone filly experienced plenty of tough luck at the start of her career with former trainer Bob Baffert. She took 8 months off before resurfacing with current conditioner Michael McCarthy, who saddled her to a dominating 7-length score in a 1-mile route versus optional claimers at Santa Anita. Still, this is a tall, tall task for a 3-year-old female.
3. Royal Ship 4/1 – The Brazilian-bred Midshipman colt gives American dirt a try after vainly chasing top turf miler Mo Forza in both the Del Mar Mile (G2) and the City Of Hope Mile (G2). He retains Mike Smith yet again as he makes his third start of the form cycle for Richard Mandella, who also trains Extra Hope and has been on fire this meet (12-6-2-3 record entering Friday).
4. Midcourt 4/5 – He takes a significant class drop after facing Grade 1 and Grade 2 rivals for the past year, including a pair of top handicap division rivals who retired after competing in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). With Improbable and Maximum Security finally out of his life forever, he has a strong chance to return to the winner’s circle over a track he loves (4-2-1-1).
5. Extra Hope 3/1 – He briefly flirted with the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) Trail, then skipped the summer before ending his 3-year-old campaign finishing third in the Damascus Stakes and second in the Native Diver. He needed that first start off the layoff in August, but he tied his career-best 92 Beyer Speed Figure beating Santa Anita optional claimers a month later.