The Best Pal

This year’s version of the Best Pal, a GII 6f sprint for 2YO at Del Mar, is dominated by the presence of Instagrand. He is the 1/2 morning line favorite and a deserving one. Here is his maiden race, where he shows his stamina in the stretch convincingly.

He cost $1.2 million this past March and has been the subject of some serious hype since winning that maiden. On paper, he should dominate today. His Beyer Speed Figure of 88 towers over the field. And 2YO tend to be reliable, the opposite of what people think. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, for him to not win, he’d likely have to not like the track — something it’s hard to tell conclusively from the workouts — or regress off that big effort at the end of June. It was just one race and it’s easy to overstress in a sample size of one. That said, he’d seemingly like the extra furlong — and extra furlongs after that — being out of Into Mischief. He likely goes off better than 1/2, possibly even 1/9. Incidentally, odds-on in Graded Stakes is a historically positive return.

Can you beat him? If so, you’re likeliest to do so with Owning. His sire’s stud fee (Flashback) is only $5K, but he sold for $260K this past April.  A high multiple between the two is usually a sign of a fast horse. Also, Flashback is getting significant buzz as a freshman sire. Owning debuted for Simon Callaghan with Mario Gutierrez aboard with a 72 Beyer Speed Figure. Callaghan was the trainer of Kentucky Derby second-place finisher of Firing Line in 2015. The winner that year? American Pharoah. Owning could always improve in his second start and wasn’t favored first time out. He should appreciate the extra half-furlong. But he’s still overmatched by Instagrand.

Mason Dixon won a 150K Maiden Claimer — the type of races designed to let good horses run, but get away from the million-dollar Instagrand’s of the world. He’s extremely overmatched for Doug O’Neil and Flavien Prat. He should appreciate the extra furlong being by Union Rags. He’s likely to improve for O’Neil, who usually doesn’t have them cranked up the first time, but asking him to catch Instagrand is a tall task.

Sparky Ville would need to move forward significantly in the 2 months since he last raced. It’s not impossible, but still unlikely for trainer Jeff Bonde and jockey Gary Stevens. He has a very nice workout mixed in a bunch of average to below-average ones. He should like the extra distance, being by Candy Ride, but no match for Instagrand.

Synthesis is still a maiden, with 2 3rd place finishes to his record. He looks overmatched and he is. He doesn’t have the pedigree or the race record to be competitive here. He’s already run several times so we have more of a baseline. Trained by Keith Desormeaux and ridden by his brother, Kent, Synthesis will likely be 20-1 or more and has little chance to spring the huge upset.

Analysis: Based on his impressive maiden score and the high Beyer Speed Figure earned from it, Instagrand should romp in the Best Pal. His purchase price helps pad the argument as well. The most competition will likely come from Owning, who is out of promising sire Flashback and earned the 2nd best Beyer Speed Figure last time out. But it likely won’t be enough to hold off Instagram from getting his first Graded Stakes.

The West Virginia Derby

Normally, Mountaineer Park is a sanctuary for horseplayers who play at night during the week. But once a year, the track garners national attention with the GIII West Viriginia Derby. The race was a GII from 2009-2016 and, for this edition, the purse has seen a reduction to $500,000, its lowest level since 2001. But the race has still brought a field of up and coming horses looking to establish themselves in the division and gain a graded stakes victory.

Two horses in the field already have graded stakes victory and they are likely the two favorites come post time. Draft Pick won the GIII Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita before finishing second to Once on Whiskey in the GIII Los Alamitos Derby. Draft Pick ran much faster in the Affirmed and possibly could simply have not cared for the Los Alamitos or the 9-furlong distance of the Los Alamitos Derby. Once on Whiskey won stretching out after two good races at 7 furlongs. He did not run a very fast Beyer Speed Figure — 86 — in the Los Alamitos Derby win. However, that very well could be fast enough to win in this field today.

High North won the Iowa Derby with an 84 Beyer.  His best win may be the Northern Spur, a competitive race at 8.5 furlongs on the Arkansas Derby undercard. He ran a 91 Beyer in that race. He certainly has a shot, but I’m not sure he wants the distance. Rugbyman tries 9 furlongs for the first time. This is his 5th-lifetime start. Among those area 14 length score in the mud at Belmont and a 2nd by a neck in the Easy Goer on the Belmont undercard. He was crushed by Firenze Fire in the Dwyer, but his Beyer came back from that as a competitive 84.

Mr. Freeze is making only his 4th lifetime start. In his last start, he finished 2nd to High North in Iowas Derby. Before that, he earned an 89 Beyer at Churchill Downs in a 3YO first-level allowance win. This is his first attempt at 9 furlongs. Lionite finished 3rd in the Iowa Derby and won the local prep for that race. But, excluding his maiden breaker, he hasn’t run fast enough to win here. The extra distance is his main hope. Caloric, King Cause, and Pamir haven’t run fast enough in their careers and with the exception of King Cause, significant improvement is unlikely by the other two. I wouldn’t be shocked to see King Cause hit the board, despite being seemingly overmatched.

Analysis: This is as wide-open 3YO race we’ve seen in a while. I like Rugbyman on the stretchout to 9 furlongs. He’s by super-sire Tapit. At this distance, I think he’s faster than the two horses coming from the Los Alamitos Derby (Draft Pick, Once on Whiskey) and faster than the Iowa Derby winner (High North). Hopefully, he’s a price, especially with the presence of a Baffert horse in the field (Once on Whiskey).