by Margaret Ransom
Saturday’s Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) at Del Mar marks the first of five Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” events of the summer meet.
And that means one of the eight runners will win an all-expenses-paid trip to Santa Anita (so what if it’s only 116 miles away) and a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) on Nov. 1. The six-furlong main track sprint carries a purse of $300,000.
The weather in Southern California continues to be beautiful and Saturday will be no exception, with highs in the mid-70s and a nice ocean breeze expected.
The Bing Crosby has consistently showcased the best summertime sprinters west of the Mississippi and over the years some of the names to have graced the winner’s circle are remembered as elite runners, including champion sprinters Chinook Pass, Lit de Justice, Kona Gold (twice) and Points Offthebench. Agave Racing’s Ransom the Moon won the last two runnings, both in slight upset fashion, and is now retired and just finished his first season as a stallion at Calumet Farm in Kentucky.
Trainers Bob Baffert and Bruce Headley each own the record for number of winners of the Bing Crosby with four and jockeys Eddie Delahoussaye and Corey Nakatani each have booted home five winners. Lord Nelson set the stakes record of 1:07.65 when he won in 2016.
Current leading jockey Flavien Prat, who has won this race the last four years in a row, this year partners with New York shipper Recruiting Ready, who is coming off a strong third-place finish behind last week’s San Diego Handicap (G2) winner Catalina Cruiser in the True North at Belmont Park on June 8. The 5-year-old son of Algorithms cuts back a sixteenth of a mile from that effort to his favorite distance (11-5-2-2) and makes his first trip away from the East Coast, his connections choosing this Del Mar fixture to attempt to win their way into the Breeders’ Cup. The $240,000 2-year-old in training purchase is owned by Sagamore Farm and trained by Stanley Hough and is already a Grade 3 winner. In a division looking for a star, this one may have the goods to break out with a top performance. Recruiting Ready, who is a pace stalker, drew post position seven.
Jalen Journey is another one making his Southern California debut after spending his entire career in Florida in the care of Leo Azpurua and Kathleen O’Connell. Rockingham Ranch and David Bernsen, who campaigned Breeders’ Cup champions Roy H. and Stormy Liberal, picked up this son of With Distinction 2 ½ weeks ago for $510,000 at the Fasig-Tipton horses of racing age sale and return him to action off a second-place finish in the Smile Sprint (G3) at Gulfstream Park a month ago. He’s lightly raced and versatile and has a win at this distance, and Del Mar’s defending leading trainer Pete Miller knows what he’s doing, especially with sprinters. Mike Smith rides for the first time.
Cal-bred Desert Law returns to stakes company after winning the Thor’s Echo Stakes for fellow state-breds last month at Santa Anita. The Carla Gaines-trained son of Desert Code has a nice record of 8-4-2-0 at this distance and may be just rounding into his best form at the right time. Rafael Bejarano rides.
Air Strike seeks to give trainer Phil D’Amato his third straight win here and this son of Street Sense will do it under jockey Norberto Arroyo Jr. off a nice win in the Triple Bend (G2) last out. He’s a fairly talented and consistent type who has been knocking on the door for being a standout for a while. He will be rolling late, his connections no doubt hoping he doesn’t run out of the ground.
It’s been 20 years since John Sadler won this race with Christmas Boy and this year he saddles Hronis Racing’s Cistron off a second-place finish to Air Strike in the Triple Bend two months ago. This speedy son of The Factor, who will no doubt be part of the early pace, had a fairly decent turf campaign before returning to dirt to win the Kona Gold (G2) in April before his Triple Bend performance. Victor Espinoza is back and if this horse gets out from the gate cleanly, it will be hard for any runner to run him down at this distance.
Line Judge, who was haltered by Miller and owners Kaegel and Shaw for $62,500 at Churchill Downs back in late May, makes his California debut for his new connections off a win in the Kelly’s Landing Stakes a month ago. He seems to prefer a bit more distance, but does have three wins from four starts at three-quarters of a mile. A fast pace will suit this late runner well and his best certainly makes him a factor for a higher placing.
Calexman, trained by Vladimir Cerin and will be ridden by Geovanni Franco, has been very productive in allowance and non-graded stakes, but seems to do most of his racing at a distance of from a half-furlong farther than this six furlongs to a mile. He even had a fairly decent turf campaign for a while. This jump in class just seems awfully steep for this son of Midshipman.
Chief Cicatriz is the final shipper of the bunch, arriving from Minnesota and a victory in the Dark Star Cup Stakes a month ago at Canterbury Park. He is consistent (15-10-1-0) and likes this distance (8-5-1-0), and has traveled a lot in the Midwest, to Kentucky and Arizona and now California, and has also put up some performances to suggest he belongs here. This Shawn Davis-trained son of Munnings may be a surprise to many when the dust settles on this race.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.