Havnameltdown © Benoit Photo
The Best Pal Stakes – named after one of the best California-bred horses of all time – has annually shown itself to be a proving grounds for bigger and better things to come. This year’s edition, which will happen Sunday as the featured attraction on a 10-race card, should be no different.
Eleven 2-year-old males – 10 of them colts, one a gelding – will run for a $200,000 prize in the Grade III, six-furlong presentation that serves as a key prep for the track’s foremost juvenile offering, the Runhappy Del Mar Futurity, which is scheduled for closing day, Sunday, September 11.
None of the youngsters have been to the post more than twice, so getting a line on them has got to be difficult at best.
Morning line maker Jon White stepped out and stepped up to declare he sees two of them doing better than most – the Bob Baffert-trained colt Havnameltdown – who he hung at 9/5 – and the Simon Callaghan-conditioned colt Arman – listed at 5/2.
The former is owned by three of Baffert’s clients of longstanding – Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. The owners and the Hall of Fame trainer have teamed up on dozens of really good horses in the past and, of course, they’re hoping they’ve got another in the bay by the Lion Heart sire Uncaptured whom they paid $200,000 for at sale earlier this year. In his lone start July 24 at Del Mar, the Florida-bred went to the front and never looked back, winning by better than two lengths in fast time at five furlongs.
It’s noteworthy that Baffert has won the Best Pal eight times, once with a Pegram-Watson-Whitman colt named Lookin At Lucky, who went on to be 2-year-old champion in 2009.
Arman is a son of Bolt d’Oro, who won the Del Mar Futurity in 2017. The bay colt, also a Florida-bred, cost $600,000 at sale earlier this year for owner Kaleem Shah, and made his debut at Churchill Downs on June 23 where he came running late to draw clear in a field of 10 juveniles at five panels. He’s trained well since being brought to California and looms a solid factor in Sunday’s dash.
Here’s the complete lineup for the Best Pal from the rail out with riders and morning line odds:
The Quarter Company’s King Adrock (Edwin Maldonado up, 6-1); Arman (Martin Garcia); Peter O. Johnson’s Fleet Feet (Umberto Rispoli, 15-1); Calumet Farm’s Jin Tong (Armando Ayuso, 20-1); Muir Hut Stables’ Agency (Tyler Baze, 8-1); Royalty Stable or Castrellon’s Pop d’Oro (Victor Espinoza, 20-1); California Racing Partners, Ciaglia Racing or Pearson, et al’s Man Child (Ramon Vazquez, 10-1); Raymond Weijland’s Quagmire Magic (Florent Geroux, 12-1); Crossley, Preiss or Province’s Mardukas (Joe Bravo, 20-1); Havnameltdown (Juan Hernandez), and George Sharp’s Kangaroo Court (Abel Cedillo, 6-1).
Kangaroo Court is the lone gelding in the field. He’s by the Discreet Cat sire Dads Caps and is a California-bred. The chestnut showed good speed in his debut at Del Mar on July 23 and led until the very end when he fell behind by half a length to the promising juvenile The Big Wam.
King Adrock has run twice, both in Kentucky. The Uncaptured colt won his debut at Keeneland in April handily, then came back in the Kentucky Juvenile on May 5 at Churchill Downs with a troubled race that saw him finish far behind. The bay has been training smartly in California since for conditioner Luis Mendez.
The Best Pal will be the Race 9 on the Sunday card with a post time of approximately 6:10 p.m. First post on the afternoon will be the usual 2 p.m.