08/18/2011 1:53PM

Del Mar: Cambina faces tough competition in Del Mar Oaks

Benoit & Associates
Although Cambina is a four-time stakes winner, she will have to be at her best to defeat a field in the Del Mar Oaks in which every one of her rivals has either won or placed in a graded event.

DEL MAR, Calif. – To achieve a record that includes four stakes wins this year, Cambina has rallied from the back of a field to reach the front in races such as the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita in April and the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park last month.

Such a style produces dramatic finishes – in victory and defeat. Cambina was third in two stakes at Hollywood Park in the spring, closing well in both, and overcame trouble in the stretch to win the American Oaks in a dead heat with Nereid.

Cambina’s determination has impressed trainer Jeff Bonde this year, and is why he speaks highly of her chances for a fifth career stakes win in Saturday’s $250,000 Del Mar Oaks.

“I think I’ve got the best horse,” Bonde said. “When she’s had a chance to run, she’s beaten them all. She’s on top of her game.”

Cambina needs to be at her best to win the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies. The race drew a field of 13, but will have a safety limit of 10 starters. The 10 fillies in the main body of the race have won or placed in graded stakes, which gave them preference over the three fillies on the also-eligible list who have not achieved that status.

Nereid starts in the Del Mar Oaks, and along with Star Billing, who was third in the American Oaks, gives trainer John Shirreffs a formidable duo.

The California stakes winners Sarah’s Secret and Up In Time can win with their best efforts.

Sarah’s Secret beat Cambina in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap on June 11, but was sixth in the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap here on July 24. She had difficulty breathing in that race, trainer Kathy Walsh said earlier this week, a problem that may be avoided by letting Sarah’s Secret race more freely, and perhaps set the pace, on Saturday.

Bizzy Caroline, the winner of the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs in June, was fifth as the 6-5 favorite in the American Oaks, but has stayed in Southern California for Saturday’s race.

A shipper such as Summer Soiree, who won the Grade 3 Boiling Springs Stakes by 8 1/2 lengths at Monmouth Park in June, and makes her first start in California in the Del Mar Oaks, will be well-backed, and may go favored. Trained by Graham Motion, Summer Soiree is likely to set or dispute the pace under jockey Gabriel Saez.

“They’re all good horses, but I like the way mine is going right now,” Bonde said. “The X factor is the ship-in horses.”

Celestial Kitten and Entrustment, who are stakes-placed this year, are the other assured entrants.

Trainer Simon Callaghan, who trains Up In Time, predicts a close finish.

“I think these are a good group of 3-year-old fillies,” he said. “They won’t be much between the first three or four. There is no standout. Our filly is going forward and there are proven fillies such as Cambina.”

Nereid led throughout the American Oaks, but is expected to stalk the pace in the Del Mar Oaks.

Star Billing has won 2 of 4 starts. She was beaten a half-length by Sarah’s Secret in the Honeymoon and a head by Nereid and Cambina in the American Oaks.

“With a little luck, she could be going into this race undefeated,” Shirreffs said.