07/29/2013 3:41PM

Del Mar: Carryover overshadows Graduation Stakes

Shigeki Kikkawa
Willie B Awesome will be facing statebred company for the first time Wednesday.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – The $100,000 purse of the Graduation Stakes pales compared with the $1.5 million expected to be wagered Wednesday in the Del Mar pick six.

A $261,359 carryover is up for grabs on races 3-8, and bettors holding live tickets into the final two legs will find no easy spots in the race-7 feature.

An evenly matched field of California-bred 2-year-olds entered the 5 1/2-furlong Graduation, in which Willie B Awesome will try to become the first winning favorite in the race since Del Mar switched to Polytrack in 2007.

Willie B Awesome finished third 18 days ago in the slow-pace Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile, missing by a half-length while possibly compromised by strategy.

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“I was a little upset with the ride,” trainer Walther Solis said. “The pace was so slow, and [jockey Martin Pedroza] was choking him. He should have let him go.”

Instead, pacesetter Alpine Luck led gate to wire setting easy fractions of 23.05 and 46.67 seconds. Willie B Awesome, after being rated behind the tepid pace, narrowed the gap but missed. “He tried to come back” Solis said. “We just got beat that day.”

Pedroza rides Willie B Awesome again Wednesday as the colt faces statebred company for the first time. A maiden winner second time out, Willie B Awesome placed in the Willard Proctor Stakes before his third-place finish in the Juvenile.

Willie B Awesome is a lukewarm 3-1 favorite on the pre-scratch morning line.

Two of his main rivals Wednesday are fillies. Smoove It won a maiden race her second start, then skipped the July 19 CTBA Stakes, a filly stakes won by stablemate Sprouts.

But the filly with the best chance in the Graduation is Moving Desert, who put it all together July 17 to win a Del Mar maiden race by three lengths. Trainer Blake Heap said the difference was a change in strategy.

Moving Desert showed speed and tired her first two starts. “I don’t think she wants to be sent away from the gate like that,” Heap said.

His instructions the third time were simple: “Take hold, don’t be shoving on her.”

Moving Desert settled comfortably, and finished strongly. She won by three lengths while earning a 72 Beyer Speed Figure that tops the Graduation field.

Sired by first-crop stallion Desert Code, Moving Desert is wheeling back in 14 days.

“It’s a little quick, but she’s so mellow,” Heap said. “Nothing bothers her. She hasn’t gotten speed-crazy, or race-crazy. She’s got a great attitude.” Joe Talamo picks up the mount from Joel Rosario.

Other contenders include maiden winner Gangnam Guy, a front-runner from the rail; Solid Wager, who steadied and raced wide finishing fourth in the Hollywood Juvenile; and California Chrome, who trainer Art Sherman expects to improve with blinkers.

Pick-six bettors Wednesday will navigate a diverse sequence. Below is a look at the other five races.

◗ Race 3 is a maiden-40 starter allowance at a mile in which Spring Up will try to become the first two-time winner at the meet. He was claimed by John Sadler from a dominating sprint win July 17 in a $20,000 maiden-claimer.

◗ Race 4 is a $16,000 claiming race, nonwinners of two, in which Jay’s Firetruck is the early favorite based on four straight in-the-money finishes against similar. His rivals include Lite That Baby Up, Hurry Home Clover and Chico Suerte.

◗ Race 5 is a maiden race for California-breds at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Vokonsky, runner-up all three starts, is a potential single.

◗ Race 6 is a statebred allowance/optional $25,000 claiming sprint in which Northern California shipper Morning Fog is the early favorite. Indian Classic and comebacker Ballard Ruler are contenders.

◗ Race 8 is a $20,000 maiden-claiming sprint; comebacker Athina Lee faces Party Bus.