The $250,000, Grade 2 Del Mar Derby Presented by Caesars Sportsbook Saturday evening at Del Mar features the top four finishers in the Runhappy Oceanside Stakes on opening day of the meeting as well as the top three finishers in the Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap run four weeks ago. Another trio of horses come out of a highly rated allowance race run just a few days after the La Jolla, and yet another pair come out of another highly rated allowance race on turf run one day after the Oceanside. All in all, 14 horses that have proven an affinity for the turf are signed on to contest this year’s Del Mar Derby.
Flashiest rallied from last of 12 to win the Oceanside, a head in front of Crew Dragon, who in turn was a nose in front of No Foolery Here. In the La Jolla, Sword Zorro crossed the wire first but was placed third for drifting out and bumping Zoffarelli and Hudson Ridge, who were moved up to first and second, respectively, when the race was made official. Crew Dragon returned a few weeks later in one of those highly rated allowance races, winning by a head over Hockey Dad, who had finished fourth in the Oceanside. Barraza was another neck behind Hockey Dad and enters the Del Mar Derby with every right to run well. The same can be said for Jimmy Blue Jeans, who won the Snow Chief Stakes at the distance of the Derby and who won the allowance race held after the Oceanside, a race in which Lincoln Hawk finished third. Then there’s None Above the Law, who missed by a neck in the Snow Chief and who recently won the Real Good Deal Stakes powerfully. Optimistic Valor won a turf race at Del Mar in July and appears to fit as well, as does Petruchio, who had rallied fast to miss by just three-quarters of a length in the Singletary Stakes in April and who rallied fast from 11th of 12 in the Oceanside and in spite of finishing sixth was beaten by only 1 ¾ lengths. Cathkin Peak won the Eddie Logan Stakes on turf in December then was second in the Pasadena Stakes this past February but finished a non-threatening sixth in the La Jolla.
The separation between so many good horses which can win this year’s Del Mar Derby is paper thin, but I’m going to start with None Above the Law. After winning just two of his first seven races, None Above the Law was sent from Santa Anita to Golden Gate Fields to contest the Silky Sullivan Stakes in April, which was scheduled for turf but run on the synthetic main track due to inclement weather. In his best race to date, None Above the Law rallied from ninth to win going away. He stayed at Golden Gate one month later to run in the Alcatraz Stakes on turf, and None Above the Law won easily again, this time besting nine opponents. Returning to Southern California and stretching out to the same 1 1/8-mile turf trip as the Del Mar Derby, None Above the Law rallied but missed by a neck behind Jimmy Blue Jeans. Next came a rare poor effort in the Oceanside when he finished ninth – but when he was shortened up to seven furlongs at the end of July, None Above the Law returned to top form, blowing away the field in the Real Good Deal Stakes. He scored by 5 ¼ lengths and earned a career-best – and better still, field-high – last race 103 Equibase Speed Figure. Looking back at his previous races, when he stretched out from a sprint to a route in January, None Above the Law led late and ended up second in the California Cup Derby. When doing the same in April, he won the Silky Sullivan. As such, I expect None Above the Law to run a big race and likely carry high odds, as he will be overlooked by many bettors. Although Del Mar’s leading jockey Flavien Prat gets off to ride Hudson Ridge, I have no concerns about that, and actually am pretty excited by the presence of Joe Bravo, who came from the East Coast to ride at Del Mar and since the start of the meet has been very impressive, with a record on turf rivaling that of top turf jockeys Prat and Umberto Rispoli.
Zoffarelli was placed first in the La Jolla Handicap following the disqualification of Sword Zorro, but in my opinion he would have won that race with a clean trip. Making his U.S. debut in the La Jolla, Zoffarelli lacked room at a critical stage of the stretch run then was bumped hard by Sword Zorro into Hudson Ridge. The 97 figure he earned in the La Jolla is highly likely to be improved upon in his second U.S. start which, gives Zoffarelli a chance to win his second graded stakes in as many tries since importing from Europe.
No Foolery Here finished third in the opening-day Oceanside Stakes and he ran as well as winner Flashiest and runner-up Crew Dragon when beaten a head and a nose for the win. One race before that, No Foolery Here won at the 1 1/8-mile turf distance of the Del Mar Derby. In the Oceanside, he was flying late from eighth at the top of the stretch to come up inches short on the wire, earning a strong 101 figure in the process. The Oceanside turned out to be a “Key Race” which continues to be very productive. Oceanside runner-up Crew Dragon won his next race, and fourth-place Hockey Dad (who was beaten a head, nose and neck) returned to nearly win his next start. None Above the Law improved off his ninth-place effort to win a stakes as noted above, and the Oceanside seventh-place finisher won a stakes race at Golden Gate in his next start. As one of the few horses that have not run since the Oceanside, it follows that No Foolery Here should improve markedly and as such he could be a big factor in the Del Mar Derby, potentially at high odds similar to the 39.80-1 odds he carried in the Oceanside.
Certainly, Sword Zorro and Hudson Ridge must be given some respect based on their efforts in the La Jolla, a race in which they earned 98 and 97 figures, respectively. However, it must be noted Sword Zorro gets a poor outside post in a big field in the Del Mar Derby and could lose ground on both turns. Similarly, Crew Dragon and Flashiest, the second- and first-place finishers in the Oceanside Stakes, respectively, fit in the Del Mar Derby perfectly, but could be disadvantaged by poor outside posts.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is Barraza (97), Cathkin Peak (100), Hockey Dad (100), Jimmy Blue Jeans (98), Lincoln Hawk (99), Optimistic Valor (96), and Petruchio (98).
None Above the Law
No Foolery Here