Published Saturday, July 29th, 2023   ( 1 month ago )

Gold Phoenix, Balnikhov Return to Del Mar in GII Eddie Read


Gold Phoenix © Benoit Photo

If there’s a graded stakes on the Del Mar turf this summer, you can bet trainer Philip D’Amato will be an active participant. He’s becoming the West Coast’s version of Chad Brown. He comes with a barn packed full of talented turf runners and he’s not afraid to put one up against the other.

This Sunday’s G2 Eddie Read, a mile and an eighth test for horses 3-years-old and up on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course, is a good case in point. D’Amato has entered no less than four in the nine-horse field. There’s Gold Phoenix, last year’s G2 Del Mar Handicap winner; Balnikhov, last year’s Oceanside Stakes winner; Masteroffoxhounds, winner of the 2022 G2 John Henry at Santa Anita, and Count Again, 2022’s G1 Shoemaker Mile winner.

Gold Phoenix comes into the Eddie Read off of a disappointing seventh-place finish in this year’s Shoemaker Mile.

“He’s kind of a Jekyl and Hyde horse,” D’Amato says. “When you expect him to run a huge race he’ll just run average. But he’s been training extremely well and he’s run some big races on this Del Mar turf course.”

Balnikhov also likes the turf course at Del Mar. He came back from his Oceanside win to run a close fourth in the G2 Del Mar Derby, losing by just 1 ¼ lengths to Slow Down Andy. Since then he’s scored a couple of Grade 3’s, the Bryan Station at Keeneland last October and the San Francisco Mile at Golden Gate Fields in April. He also missed by a nose to One More Bid in the G2 Mathis Mile at Santa Anita the day after Christmas. But, like his stablemate, he threw in a clunker last out in the Shoemaker Mile.

Masteroffoxhounds hasn’t won since his victory in the John Henry but he followed that race with a close third in the G2 Seabiscuit at Del Mar, missing by just a neck in a blanket finish with Hong Kong Harry and Beyond Brilliant. He started his 6-year-old campaign with another close call. Stablemate Prince Abama beat him by a neck in the G3 San Marcos. He hasn’t raced since April when he finished fifth in the G2 Charles Whittingham.

Finally there’s Count Again, who’s been idle since he won the Shoemaker Mile in May of last year.

So why run them all in the same race?

“That’s where they all fit,” D’Amato says, “so that’s where they’re all going to run. They’re all training very well. You train them up all the same way the best you possibly can and whoever gets the best trip decides who wins.”

While it would appear D’Amato has a corner on the market in the Eddie Read, there are a couple of contenders who are quite capable of pulling off the upset.

Mackinnon is back on the West Coast following a stint back east where he posted a runner-up finish in the G2 Hill Prince at the Belmont at Aqueduct meet last October.

“The owners wanted to give the east coast a try,” trainer Doug O’Neill says. “I think at the end of the day the owners think he’ll appreciate the firm ground of the west coast again opposed to the softer grass back east.”

Cabo Spirit, winner of last year’s G3 La Jolla at Del Mar, is also entered in the Eddie Read as well as Dicey Mo Chara, winner of the G2 San Gabriel earlier this year at Santa Anita.

The 50th running of the G2 Eddie Read will be the ninth of 11 races on Sunday’s card. Approximate post time is 6 p.m.

Here’s the field from the rail with the jockeys and the morning line odds. I’mgonnabesomebody (Kyle Frey, 20-1); Gold Phoenix (Berrios, 4-1); Balnikhov (Fresu, 4-1); Masteroffoxhounds (Maldonado, 8-1); Dicey Mo Chara (Hernandez, (6-1); Cabo Spirit (Bravo, 5-1); Handy Dandy (Vasquez, 12-1); Mackinnon (Pereira, 8-1) and Count Again (Rispoli, 3-1).