The Best Pal Stakes was named in honor of the Three-time California Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame Inductee Best Pal. The gelding won graded stakes races from the ages of two to seven at distances ranging from seven furlongs to 1 ¼ miles, and the surface didn’t matter. After compiling a 47-18-11-4 racing career and earning $5,668,245, Best Pal hung around the track as a stable pony.
The Best Pal is a prep for the Del Mar Futurity (G1), yet the event has an illustrious roll call of colts who have done well in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Triple Crown series. Last year, Nyquist and Swipe finished first and second, as they later did in the BC Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. Other Best Pal competitors include Lookin at Lucky, Creative Cause, and Kentucky Derby/Preakness hero I’ll Have Another,
The 2016 Best Pal Stakes (G2) attracted five colts and a ridgling. The youngsters will line up in Del Mar’s starting gate and travel 6 ½ furlongs. Four of them enter on the high note of having won their last race.
Trainer Bob Baffert has taken home the Best Pal trophy six times; the latest was in 2009 with Lookin At Lucky. This year, Baffert is represented by KLIMT (Quality Road – Inventive, by Dixie Union). In his second start, Klimt briefly stalked the pace, challenged the pacesetter, and then drew away to a 5 ¼ length score over a full field of two-year-olds. Klimt has shown the usual quick morning works expected by the Baffert horses. In his third pre-race breeze, Klimt recorded a bullet working with graded stakes winner TOEWS ON ICE.
Pedigree: Half-sister West Coast Chick (Malibu Moon) placed in the 6 ½ F. Vagrancy H. (G3). Klimt’s dam is a multiple stakes placed miler. This is the direct female family of Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) hero CONCERN.
Doug O’Neill has conditioned the Best Pal Stakes winner in two of the last four years, including last year’s champ Nyqyist. This year’s 1/3 of the Best Pal is comprised of O’Neil trainees Secret House and Rinse And Repeat.
After winning his debut at 4 ½ furlongs, SECRET HOUSE (Tiznow – Mega Dream, by Medaglia d’Oro) finished fourth, just missing third place by a short neck in the Santa Anita Juvenile Stakes. Secret House will be fitted with a shiny new set of blinkers. He gets his third jock switch in as many starts, this time to Santiago Gonzalez, and the colt. O’Neil & Gonzalez have teamed for a dismal 0-15 in the last three months.
Pedigree: Secret House is a first foal. His dam won a stakes at 6F on dirt and placed at a mile on the turf in the Royal Heroine Mile (G3). This is the distaff line of 1991 Eclipse Award Turf Male TIGHT SPOT, and the multiple graded stakes winning warrior PREMIUM TAP. Secret House is bred to handle classic distances and also has turf affinity throughout his pedigree. He should improve with maturity.
O’Neil’s second contender RINSE AND REPEAT (Square Eddie – Electric Daze, by Gilded Time) found the third start to be to his liking. After chasing the pace setter Rim Ditch for much of the race, Rinse and Repeat took over in the stretch to win by 1 ½ lengths.
Pedigree: Rinse and Repeat’s full brother Electric Eddie placed 3 times, twice in juvie stakes. Their dam was 1-7, failed to hit the board at SA and HOL, but got the job done at Fairplex. The second generation of his female family didn’t earn blacktype, but his third dam NORTHERN FABLE is a graded stakes winner and she’s also the third dam of BERNARDINI. Class could be skipping a generation here.
Ready to step up
In his debut, BIG LEAGUE (Speightstown – Reunited, by Dixie Union) dueled on the lead for much of the race, and then pulled away in the stretch to win by 3 ¼ lengths. The dark bay colt has been training smartly for Perter Miller, who is seeking his first Best Pal victory.
Pedigree: Big League has a precocious sprinter’s pedigree. His dam is a G3 stakes winning sprinter. There are some nice blacktype earners in the female family. Reunited’s ¾ brother DEAL BREAKER is a two-time stakes-winning sprinter, as is a half-sister, WIND TUNNEL. Another half-sibling Ok Nothanksforaskn is Grade 3 stakes placed. Big League’s second dam TIVLI is also a stakes winner.
THIRSTFORLIFE (Stay Thirsty – Promenade Girl, by Carson City) ships in from Kentucky. The son of first-crop sire Stay Thirsty made his debut in the five-furlong Kentucky Juvenile Stakes three days before the Kentucky Derby. The colt finished third but came back to win at the same distance a month later, running away from an over-matched field of maidens by 6 ½ lengths. Mark Casse ships in and Joe Talamo will ride.
Pedigree: Thirstforlife has a miler’s pedigree. He’s a ¾ brother to CAVORTING (Bernardini), who won the Adirondack (G2) as a juvenile. Later Cavorting captured a trio of Grade 1 races, the Test, Ogden Phipps, and Ruffian. While she was at it, Cavoting added the Prioress (G2) to her resume along with numerous second and third place finishes in other prestigious graded stakes. Their dam Promenade Girl is a multiple stakes winning miler who earned almost $700,000 in 28 starts. Thirstforlife’s fourth dam Dumbfries is a blue hen and a half-sister to the great stallion LYPHARD.
DRAFTED (Field Commission – Keep the Profit, by Darn That Alarm) flashed his heels to a young group of babies in April at Keeneland, winning his debut by 2 ¾ lengths. Barely a month later, he jet-setted to Royal Ascot and took the scenic route, finishing 17 lengths behind the winner in the Windsor Castle Stakes. Now Drafted is back in California. He’s recorded a couple of energetic breezes at Del Mar, and Gary Stevens will attempt to earn his second Best Pal trophy.
Pedigree: Drafted ‘s sire, a grandson of Deputy Minister, is a multiple graded stakes winning sprinter over dirt and turf. Drafted has a very modest distaff family with no blacktype in the first two generations, and very little in the third and fourth generations.
It all comes down to speed. Well, yeah, I guess every race does. But this year at Del Mar, either pace setters or pace pressers find their way to the winner’s circle most often. Those who sit midpack (2+ lengths back) and closers don’t fare so well.
#6 BIG LEAGUE (2-1)
#5 KLIMT (9-5)
#1 SECRET HOUSE (12-1)