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Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Bob Hope Stakes - the first of nine graded stakes on the fall racing at Del Mar Racetrack schedule - falls right in the wheelhouse of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
It's for 2-year-olds at seven furlongs on the main track, conditions which have produced an ample number of victories that have contributed to his track leading numbers for stakes and overall wins by a trainer.
Race 8 on Del Mar's Saturday card with a Post Time of 7:00 PM
|1||Scratch||Drayden Van Dyke
|2||Extra Hope||7-2||Flavien Prat
|3||Mucho Gusto||5-2||Joseph Talamo
|6||Sparky Ville||3-1||Gary Stevens
It is the distance and age group - albeit for fillies - that provided Baffert's most recent stakes victory, with Chasing Yesterday in Monday's $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes.
So it was no surprise to see Baffert with two prime candidates, Metropol and Mucho Gusto, in a field of seven when post positions were drawn Wednesday for Saturday's program. Both were impressive winners at first asking in maiden special weight races: Mucho Gusto by four lengths on September 20 at Los Alamitos; Metropol by three-quarters of a length at Santa Anita on October 8.
But yesterday morning, Baffert's double-barrel opportunity got reduced to a single shot.
"Metropol got sick, he had a 103 temperature and we're going to have to scratch him," Baffert said by phone from Santa Anita. "The owner had already flown in and I had to call with the news."
Metropol is owned by the Peachtree Stables of John Fort.
Metropol, a son of Shackleford who was a $200,000 purchase at the Ocala sale in April, was the 4-1 co-third choice on oddsmaker Russ Hudak's morning line. The scratch still leaves Baffert with the 5-2 morning line favorite, Mucho Gusto, a son of Mucho Macho Man owned by Michael Peterson.
Mucho Gusto broke his maiden on Sept. 20 by four lengths, and there is optimism that comes from watching the impressive stretch run with Joe Talamo aboard. Talamo never used the whip and only gave a vigorous hand ride, like he knew the outcome even when the other horses came within range. The horse had a lot left.
Even though the Bob Hope is aseven-furlong race, Mucho Gusto's routing pedigree is notable because he broke his maiden in a six-furlong race effortlessly.
Mucho Gusto's sire, Mucho Macho Man, won several graded dirt routes in his career, with his main highlight coming in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita. Underneath, Mucho Gusto shows several route influences as well, as the second dam Countervail is a half to notable stakes routers Alternate and Peaks and Valleys.
Yet, Mucho Gusto seemed to enjoy six furlongs. How much can he improve in a longer race, even if only by one furlong? A more proper distance should help at least a little.
While Mucho Gusto only earned a 98 TimeformUS Speed Figure at lowly Los Alamitos, the other factors help make him the top pick here.
Sparky Ville, a son of Candy Ride, won a maiden race in early June at Santa Anita, was second to the highly-regarded Instagrand in the Best Pal and then sixth behind champion-to-be Game Winner in the Del Mar Futurity prior to winning the Sunny Slope.
Savagery, by Bellamy Road, is stakes-placed, having finished second to Sparky Ville in the Sunny Slope, bowing by a length and one-quarter.
It took three tries, two here and one at Santa Anita, for Extra Hope to notch his first victory.
But when he did, the 2-year-old son of Shanghai Bobby did it well, winning a 1 1/16-mile race at Santa Anita by 8 ¾ lengths on October 21. Now the colt, owned by Samantha Siegel's Jay Em Ess Stable and trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, is back where he finished second and third in his first two career starts in August and September.
"We put blinkers on him at the suggestion of (jockey) Drayden Van Dyke and he won very nicely," Mandella said. "We didn't have an option for him anywhere else, even though I didn't really want to back up with him to seven eighths, so we're here."
The field from the rail: Extra Hope (Flavien Prat, 7-2), Mucho Gusto (Joe Talamo, 5-2), Savagery (Rafael Bejarano, 4-1), Owning (Mario Gutierrez, 15-1), Sparky Ville (Jeff Bonde, 3-1) and Sueno (Kent Desormeaux, 15-1).
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