A smashing 5 ¼-length winner 12 months ago, Big John B will make a title defense in Saturday’s $250,000 Del Mar H. (G2). The reformed claimer recorded his initial stakes tally last year and will enter the 1 3/8-mile turf affair in good form for trainer Philip d’Amato, winning his last two outings.
The six-year-old Hard Spun gelding defeated starter handicap rivals on Santa Anita’s turf two starts back before switching to the main track for the July 24 Cougar II (G3), rallying boldly from last to first with regular rider Rafael Bejarano. However, Big John B could face a stiff test from a couple of rivals in the nine-horse field, Ashleyluvssugar and Finnegans Wake.
Ashleyluvssugar reeled off consecutive wins in the San Luis Rey (G2) and Charles Whittingham (G2) at Santa Anita before shipping to Monmouth Park to finish sixth in the July 5 United Nations (G1). The Peter Eurton-trained gelding should appreciate the return to the California turf ranks and Gary Stevens retains the mount.
Finnegans Wake won the San Gabriel (G2) and San Marcos (G2) over the winter before finishing second at 3-5 in the San Luis Rey. The Peter Miller trainee took his game on the road afterward, winning the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs and finishing fourth in the Manhattan (G1) at Belmont Park. Fourth in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) on the main track two back, the 6yo figures to appreciate the added ground Saturday following a closing third in the July 18 Eddie Read (G1). Victor Espinoza rides.
The Pacific Classic (G1) undercard also features the $250,000 Pat O’Brien (G2) at seven furlongs.
Wild Dude is the probable favorite following his victory in the July 26 Bing Crosby (G1), netting a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating for the 1 ¼-length decision. Flavien Prat will be back up on the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained son of Wildcat Heir.
The short but solid field of five also consists of Appealing Tale, runner-up in the Triple Bend (G1) two back and a commendable head second in the 1 1/16-mile San Diego H. (G2) last out; Grade 2 winner Kobe’s Back, third in the Bing Crosby; and Indexical and Turnover, the first and third-place finishers from a recent allowance event at the seaside oval.
Big John B winning the San Diego courtesy of Benoit Photos