Goldencents, who came up a head short of winning the Grade 1, $300,000 Bing Crosby as a three-year-old last summer, returns older and wiser for Sunday’s renewal of the six-furlong dash on Del Mar’s Polytrack. At this time in 2013, the Doug O’Neill trainee was reinventing himself after the Triple Crown trail. Although Goldencents performed well in the spring preps, culminating in a victory in the Santa Anita Derby, he faded to 17th in the Kentucky Derby and checked in a well-beaten fifth in the Preakness. A cutback in distance was prescribed, and the son of Into Mischief thrived as a one-turn artist.
Goldencents reverted to sprinting in the Bing Crosby for the first time since his sensational debut win. Rallying furiously, he just missed to the ill-fated Points Offthebench, who posthumously earned an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. Goldencents was subsequently second in the Pat O’Brien at Del Mar and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, beaten a half-length by Points Offthebench in the latter.
Stretching back out for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Goldencents rolled to a front-running, 2 3/4-length victory at Santa Anita. He came right back in the November 30 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, but got bumped at the start and wound up seventh.
Goldencents did not reappear until the June 7 Metropolitan Handicap over a mile at Belmont Park, finishing a fine second to the streaking Palace Malice. He has fired a pair of recent bullets in preparation for this second start of the year — a :59 1/5 five-furlong move on July 17 and a blistering three furlongs in :34 1/5 on Thursday — and renews his former partnership with Rafael Bejarano.
The only other Grade 1 winner in the field is Declassify, who earned his laurel in a hard-fought decision in the June 28 Triple Bend at Santa Anita. That came in just his fifth career start. Trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Declassify won his first two outings by a combined margin of 18 1/2 lengths. The sparingly raced son of Orientate then dropped his two attempts at a second-level allowance before showing tremendous determination in the Triple Bend. With regular rider Martin Garcia at Monmouth to ride Bayern in the Haskell, Declassify gets a new pilot in Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Seeking the Sherif beat Declassify two starts back, and the reformed claimer looms as the speed of the speed, if he can transfer his game to the Polytrack. The Ron Ellis charge brings a four-race winning streak into his biggest class test so far. A starter allowance winner at Santa Anita in February, the Officer gelding has methodically climbed the class ladder at the Great Race Place, all in wire-to-wire style. Edwin Maldonado will be back aboard the likely front runner, who receives four pounds from the 123-pound highweights, Goldencents and Declassify.
Big Macher is another much improved performer for Richard Baltas. The gelded son of Beau Genius, who lost a trio of maiden claimers here last year, blossomed over the winter at Santa Anita. Victorious in the Cal Cup Sprint in January, he was a close second to Sahara Sky in the March 8 San Carlos, and captured a Grade 2 photo-finish in the April 12 Potrero Grande. Freshened in the interim, Big Macher aims to resume his ascent here.
A triumvirate of three-year-olds hope to upstage their elders — Kobe’s Back, Pablo Del Monte and Indexical.
Kobe’s Back has been a work in progress, but the John Sadler colt is clearly dangerous when on his game, as evidenced by his last-to-first romps in the 2013 Willard Proctor Memorial and the February 16 San Vicente. Kobe’s Back has tended to hurt his own chances with slow or otherwise troubled starts, and he especially can’t afford that at this level. Third in the Bay Shore and fourth in both the Laz Barrera and Woody Stephens in his past three, the Flatter colt has to step it up while tackling older horses for the first time.
Pablo Del Monte is likewise untested against the older generation, but the Wesley Ward runner is speedy and adept on Polytrack. The son of Giant’s Causeway and world record-setter One Hot Wish crushed both of his starts in Keeneland sprints, and he suffered his only loss on the surface when trying to carry his speed over 1 1/8 miles in the Blue Grass. Pablo Del Monte did well to hold third, yielding only to such classy rivals as the ill-fated Dance With Fate and Medal Count. Last seen finishing sixth in the Preakness, he is taking the same trajectory that Goldencents did last year. Victor Espinoza, who carved out a lovely trip in the Blue Grass, regains the mount.
Indexical has already mixed it up with his elders. Most recently third to Declassify in the Triple Bend, he previously defeated older rivals in a turf sprint allowance at Santa Anita. The Ben Cecil trainee also has prior form over the track, having dominated a maiden here and finished seventh in the 2013 Del Mar Futurity, one spot behind California Chrome.
Rounding out the field is the six-year-old veteran Wine Police, fifth in both the Triple Bend and Potrero Grande. In between, however, he was runner-up in the Los Angeles, and he ran well in his only two starts at Del Mar a year ago.
The Bing Crosby is a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, but only three entrants have even tried turf in their careers, and Indexical is the only entrant to have won on turf.
Earlier on the card, state-bred turfers will line up in the $150,000 California Dreamin’ Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the Jimmy Durante course.
Ethnic Dance, who stole the 2013 Del Mar Derby, makes his second start off a lengthy layoff for Sadler. A Tribal Rule half-brother to Twirling Candy, Ethnic Dance was sidelined for nine months until the June 8 Crystal Water, where he set the pace and yielded grudgingly for third. He promises to be fitter for this rematch with the two who collared him, Unusual Heatwave and Mega Heat.
As their names imply, the latter two are by Unusual Heat. That ace California turf sire is responsible for no fewer than five of the 12-strong field, including another top contender in Starspangled Heat. Third in this race a year ago, Starspangled Heat drops back dramatically in distance off his third in the about 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano.
Rock Me Baby was a head second in last year’s California Dreamin’ and bids to go one better this time around for trainer Craig Dollase. The West Point Thoroughbreds colorbearer exits a troubled third in the Bertrando on the dirt at Los Alamitos. The respective top four from the Bertrando are all entered in the California Dreamin’ — Soi Phet, Spirit Rules, Rock Me Baby and Better Bet — but note that Soi Phet is cross-entered to Friday’s Grade 3 Cougar II as well as Saturday’s Grade 2 San Diego.