Sunday’s $100,000 Cougar II Handicap (GIII) at Del Mar originally drew a field of six older horses to race the somewhat exotic distance of 1 1/2 miles, but the race lost a bit of its luster when likely early favorite Hoppertunity spiked a fever and was scratched. Now down to five, the group boasts a decent list of proven marathon types that will line up and face the starter in the Sunday feature where the turf meets the surf.
The weather in Solana Beach continues to be warm and muggy and the afternoon high is expected to reach the mid-80s. The main track will be fast by post time for the main event, which has been carded as the day’s fifth race, with an approximate post time of 4:03 p.m. PT.
Cougar II, who was imported from Chile in 1970, was an exceptional racehorse and, while trained in this country by the legendary Charlie Whittingham, won just about every race from Santa Anita to Del Mar. He was crowned the nation’s top turf horse in 1972 and was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2006. Soon after, Del Mar renamed the Escondido Handicap in his honor. Cougar II is perhaps best known as the sire of 1982 Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol.
Though Hard Aces hasn’t even attempted the 12-furlong distance of this race, he has won at 10 furlongs, capturing the 2015 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) and he’s come close in other marathon events a couple other times. He’d been cross-entered in the San Diego Handicap (GII) on Saturday, but his connections wisely thought better of facing California Chrome and opted to be the likely favorite here. He’s certainly bred to like the added distance and is in capable hands with trainer John Sadler and hot jockey Santiago Gonzalez. He’s a stalker normally, but, compared to the rest of the field, he may actually inherit the lead after his break from post position four.
Seve’s Road won a nice 12-furlong allowance on the grass last time out, so the distance shouldn’t be a question for him. Trainer Phil D’Amato also picks a nice race for the former claimer to make his stakes debut. With a couple notable exceptions he’s been pretty consistent, so he is certainly not an outsider.
Quick Casablanca is another grassy marathoner who won the classic San Juan Capistrano Handicap (GII) in April before showing nothing in the Charlie Whittingham last out. He has one win from five career dirt starts to his credit, so anything is possible with him.
Infobedad didn’t show much in his North American debut last out and seems a bit of an outsider here.
Energia Fribby hasn’t won a race in a very long time, but has faced some tough competition sine shipping to America from Europe and Dubai about a year ago. He does have trainer Neil Drysdale in his corner, who is already off to a good meet with a couple of wins. Watch the tote board on this one.