By Noel Michaels
Saturday’s 11-race card at Del Mar features great racing and wagering headlined by a pair of Grade 2 stakes. Both races are highly-playable with wide-open fields filled with several contenders.
Del Mar’s Saturday stakes races are the $150,000 Best Pal at 6 furlongs on the main track for 2-year-olds, which goes as race 6, and the $150,000 Yellow Ribbon at 1 1/16 miles on the turf for fillies & mares, 3 years old and up, which goes as race 9. Both races are a part of the Pick 6, which begins in race 6.
The Best Pal drew a field of seven topped by morning-line favorite #4 RODERICK (9-5), trained by Wesley Ward, who specializes with precocious 2-year-olds. He will be ridden by Del Mar leading jockey Flavien Prat. Roderick shipped to SoCal on Monday on the strength of an impressive debut maiden victory at Belmont with this field’s highest speed figure. Even though he beat only three horses that day, the victory has already been flattered by distant runner-up Zippy Baby, who exited that eight-length defeat to come back and graduate in his next race. The connections appear to be very high on Roderick, and before you bet against him you should know that favorites have won 17 of the past 25 runnings of the Best Pal.
Contenders in the Bel Pal exotics are plentiful, with few or no toss-outs in the race, including the Doug O’Neill-trained maiden #2 AMBIVALENT (5-1), who passed horses to be second in his 4 ½-furlong career debut at Santa Anita that sets him up for improvement at 6 furlongs. If you like Ambivalent, you also probably have to like the horse that beat him by a length in both horse’s career debuts, #6 WESTON (5-1), trained by Ryan Hanson. Trainer Peter Miller is also well-represented with a pair of contenders in the race, including #5 HERD IMMUNITY (7-2) who won at first asking at Santa Anita and then shipped to Churchill for the Bashford Manor (G3) last time, where he was not embarrassed with a third-place finish.
Bet the favorite, #4 Roderick in the Best Pal by keying him in the trifectas over the aforementioned trio, #2 Ambivalent, #5 Herd Immunity, and #6 Weston.
The featured Yellow Ribbon is a fascinating handicapping puzzle that seems much more challenging and wide-open than the Best Pal. The morning line third favorite #6 KEEPER OF THE STARS (7-2) has beaten several of these challengers in recent starts, including her Grade 1 win two races ago in the Gamely at Santa Anita. However, Keeper of the Stars, trained by Jonathan Wong, is far from a lock here based on her 0-for-3 career record at Del Mar and the fact she turned in a clunker in her last race when fifth in the Wilshire (G3).
The morning-line favorite is #8 JOLIE OLIMPICA (5-2) trained by Richard Mandella with Mike Smith aboard. She looks like a monster with two turf sprint graded stakes wins this year in the Las Cienegas (G3), and then in the Monrovia (G2) where she knocked off the likes of Oleksandra. Jolie Olimpica finished second in the Jenny Wiley (G1) most recently at Keeneland where she faded a bit late at the 1 1/16-mile distance, perhaps showing that this distance is right at, or perhaps a tad beyond her limit. Plus, she’ll have pressure every step of the way from #5 Harmless (15-1), who goes out for trainer Phil D’Amato off of a second at Ellis Park last time. We’ll see.
Instead of the above-mentioned high-quality horses, I prefer to go in another direction in this race with defending Yellow Ribbon champion #7 BEAU RECALL (3-1) trained by Brad Cox, and fellow closer #2 BODHICITTA (6-1) trained by Richard Baltas. Beau Recall is winless since her 2019 Yellow Ribbon victory, but she tipped that she’s ready for a full return to form last time out when second to Newspaperofrecord in the Just a Game (G1) at Belmont, where she earned a big speed figure reminiscent of the kinds of figures she was running last year when she won this race.
Finally, I love up-and-coming horses that are getting good, and the horse in this field that fits that description is Bodhicitta, who won twice this winter at Santa Anita and then accelerated her upward trajectory with a second-place finish in the Gamely (G1) last time out. Another logical step in the right direction could put her in the winner’s circle.
From a betting perspective in the Yellow Ribbon, box #2 Bodhicitta, and #7 Beau Recall in the exactas, which has the potential to get you a value payout.
Enjoy a great card of racing and wagering Saturday at Del Mar!
Noel Michaels has been involved in many aspects of thoroughbred racing for more than two decades, as a Breeders’ Cup-winning owner and as a writer, author, handicapper, editor, manager and promoter of the sport for a wide range of companies including Daily Racing Form and Nassau County Off-Track Betting.
He also is regarded as the leading source of news and information for handicapping tournaments and the author of the “Handicapping Contest Handbook: A Horseplayer’s Guide to Handicapping Tournaments”, which made his name virtually synonymous with the increasingly-popular tournament scene.
In addition to contributing to US Racing, he is also an analyst on the Arlington Park broadcast team.