Once the turf mile kingpin of Southern California, Obviously returns from a nine-month layoff in hopes of reclaiming that title in Sunday’s $200,000 Del Mar Mile H. (G2). But the landscape has changed in the interim, with the likes of French import Talco and Brazilian star Bal a Bali both on the premises.
A free-wheeling front runner, Obviously captured this race in 2012-13, along with the 2013-14 editions of the Shoemaker Mile (G1) and the American (first as a Grade 2, then as a Grade 3). He has competed in three consecutive runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1), finishing third to Wise Dan and Animal Kingdom in 2012, and fifth in each of the past two years. Unraced since his last try at the Mile November 1, the Phil D’Amato charge will scramble from his far outside post 11 on Sunday.
Normally, Obviously would be the speed of the speed, but the Doug O’Neill-trained Jimmy Bouncer has been torrid in his sprints. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he tries to press early in this stakes and two-turn debut. Note that stablemate Pure Tactics, who was previously showing a fair bit of early speed, has since reverted to his closing tactics of old. Only third to Talco and Winning Prize when attempting a wire job in the April 4 Thunder Road, Pure Tactics gained late-running revenge on the latter in the July 22 Wickerr over this course.
Winning Prize, a champion in his native Argentina, scored his signature U.S. win in the 2014 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) on the front end. The Neil Drysdale charge hasn’t won in the interim, and exits a tough beat after leading virtually throughout in the Wickerr. Winning Prize may prefer having a target these days, however, and he’ll get one here.
At the same time, the prospect of a generous pace suits Talco to a tee, as evidenced by his victories in the Thunder Road and the June 13 Shoemaker Mile in his latest. The son of Pivotal wasn’t seen at his best in his start between those two, in the May 9 American (G3), thanks to a slow break, wide trip, and especially a tepid pace.
Bal a Bali, the 2014 Brazilian Triple Crown hero, made a smart U.S. debut when beating Talco in the American and extending his winning streak to nine. That was especially satisfying, considering that he’d been stricken with laminitis upon his arrival in the U.S. last summer, and this capped a fantastic recovery. So it was all the more disappointing when Bal a Bali didn’t follow up on that next time in the Shoemaker. Failing to pick up off the pace, he trailed home in fifth.
Suspicion that we didn’t see the real Bal a Bali was soon confirmed, for he exited the Shoemaker with an injury, according to the Fox Hill Farm Facebook page. But he’s been working regularly for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, and a return to his winning form could be imminent.
Wilkinson, winner of the 2012 American, is another good comeback story. Off since the summer of 2013, the seven-year-old was beaten all of a neck when third to Pure Tactics in his return in the Wickerr. Trainer Jeff Mullins nursed Gabriel Charles back from a bowed tendon to capture the Eddie Read (G1) earlier this meet, and Wilkinson has been training like one ready to take a step forward.
Marchman is best known as a multiple Grade 3-winning sprinter, and he accordingly kicked off his 2015 campaign with a fast-finishing second over five furlongs. Interestingly, trainer Keith Desormeaux opts to stretch him out. He’s won going this trip in the past, but that was a theft over a yielding Fair Grounds course in the 2013 Woodchopper. Perhaps at this stage of his career, he can deploy a late turn of foot around two turns.
While Argentinean Group 1 winner Di Giorgio has yet to break through in the U.S., the Ron McAnally veteran was an unlucky seventh in Marchman’s turf sprint, bottled up on the rail. The stretch-out to a mile ought to serve him better.
Not to be overlooked are the two from the Tom Proctor barn — Avanzare and Kulik Lodge. On paper, both would appear to have better chances without a bona fide speedball like Obviously in the race. Avanzare, unraced since landing the January 31 Arcadia (G2), prompted the pace en route to success there. When chasing a much more hectic pace in last fall’s City of Hope Mile (G2), he was third. Kulik Lodge has tended to mix it up early, as he did before tiring to fifth in the Wickerr.
Benoit Photo of Bal a Bali and Talco (left) from the American.