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The Best Pal is the major steppingstone to the Grade I $300,000 Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Labor Day Monday, Sept. 3.
OXO Equine's Instagrand, who appeared every cent worth his $1.2 million purchase price in breaking his maiden by ten lengths in fast time in late June, figures to be a prohibitive favorite Saturday.
Instagrand, with Drayden Van Dyke in the saddle, will be opposed in the six-furlong sprint by Owning, Mario Gutierrez; Mason Dixon, Flavien Prat, and Sparky Ville, Gary Stevens, all of whom won their first races this summer, plus the maiden Synthesis, to be piloted by Kent Desormeaux.
Instagrand, a son of Into Mischief trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, performed as advertised in his career debut at Los Alamitos. Going off at 2-5, the colt won brilliantly, racing five furlongs in a swift :56 flat. The bay colt was bought out of Fasig-Tipton's Florida sale of two-year-olds in training last March.
Race 3 on Del Mar's Saturday card with a Post Time of 6:00 PM
Four of the entrants are coming off debut or maiden-breaking wins. Synthesis, a son of First Samurai trained by J. Keith Desormeaux, is the only non-winner, having two third-place finishes and one fourth in three starts.
Of those with wins, only Mason Dixon's was accomplished over the track. The Doug O'Neill trainee, owned by Great Friends Stable and partners, prevailed by 1 ¾ lengths at 5 ½-furlongs under meet-leading rider Flavien Prat on July 21.
"Even though the time of the race wasn't that fast, the way he did it coming off the pace was solid and showed a lot of quality about him," O'Neill said. "Being able to retain Prat is also a bonus. Big purse in our own back yard, let's take a chance."
The post position draw was scheduled later Wednesday. The entries, in alphabetical order: Instagrand (Drayden Van Dyke), Mason Dixon (Flavien Prat), Owning (Mario Gutierrez), Sparky Ville (Gary Stevens) and Synthesis (Kent Desormeaux).
Trainer Keith Desormeaux is well aware of what his two-year-old colt Synthesis, winless in three career starts, is up against in Saturday's Grade II $200,000 Best Pal Stakes.
"Is he the favorite?" Desormeaux asked with a grin Friday morning.
No, that would be Instagrand, a $1.2 million purchase at the Fasig-Tipton sale in March who debuted with a 10-length victory at Los Alamitos on June 29. Synthesis, who went for $16,000 at the Keeneland sale last September, is the only maiden in the field of five for the six-furlong stepping stone to the Del Mar Futurity and is 15-1 on the morning line.
"I love to outrun those million-dollar horses with a $16,000 purchase," Desormeaux said. "Sixteen thousand, baby."
Synthesis, a Kentucky-bred son of First Samurai owned by Big Chief Racing and partners, finished third in his first two starts, in May and June at Santa Anita, and was fourth throughout in a five-furlong maiden race on the fourth day of the meeting here.
"I wouldn't be in a race of this stature if I hadn't seen some positive signs," Desormeaux said. "But I've got to be honest, one of the reasons we're in there is because of the short field (five entered).
"He's training well, and he's really bred for more distance. His races at five-eighths, he's really had to tax himself to keep up, and I know the six furlongs is going to be better for him. He really needs a mile, but six furlongs is going to help.
"It's a great race to continue his education."
A 6 ½ furlong dirt race for 2-year-olds at Del Mar, the Best Pal is one of the first graded stakes for 2-year-olds in California. Formerly named the Balboa Stakes, the Best Pal was renamed in 1996 after the 1990 winner Best Pal.
The Best Pal Stakes for 2-year-olds at Del Mar served as the coming-out party for eventual 2009 champion juvenile male Lookin At Lucky, second in that fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and in 2015 another future juvenile champion took the Best Pal road to the Breeders' Cup, when Nyquist took the Grade 2 stakes as the second of eight consecutive wins to begin his career, including the Sentient Jet Juvenile and the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
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