07/24/2012 1:29PM

Del Mar: Coil using Thursday sprint as springboard to stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Coil makes his first start of the year on Thursday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – At Del Mar racetrack the past week or so, a chestnut colored colt has caught the eye every morning during training hours. Even people who haven’t been around horses couldn’t help but notice and then wonder, “Who’s that?”

On Thursday, they’ll get to see him in action.

The striking Coil, last year’s Haskell Invitational winner, makes his first start of the year in an optional-claiming race at seven furlongs, the seventh race on the eight-race card.

Coil has bigger targets down the line, and the distance might be short of optimum for him, but if he runs to his looks, he’ll be a major player in this terrific mid-week feature race.

“He is a beautiful horse,” his trainer, Bob Baffert, remarked as Coil went through a routine gallop the other morning. “It’s a good spot for him. He can run in there, then springboard to something else.”

Coil was nominated to the Grade 2, $200,000 San Diego Handicap, to be run on Saturday at 1 1/16 miles, but Baffert has Prayer for Relief and Take Control for that race. In addition, “it would be pretty demanding to run him in that off a layoff,” Baffert said.

“If it was dirt, I might have done it.”

Coil comes into Thursday’s race off a series of fast workouts, including a six-furlong drill from the gate on Friday in 1:10.80, the best time of 14 at the distance.

Coil’s best success has been around two turns. In addition to the Haskell at Monmouth, last year he won the Affirmed at Hollywood Park and was third against older horses in the Goodwood at Santa Anita. But he can sprint. Coil won twice at six furlongs at Hollywood Park early in his career.

There are eight others in the $78,000 race, including Bank the Eight, who makes his first start for Baffert following a 17-month layoff. Bank the Eight, winner of the Federico Tesio at Pimlico in May 2010, won four times in eight starts with trainer Tony Dutrow. Thursday’s race will be his first on a synthetic surface.

“He had some hind-end issues,” Baffert said. “He’s training good. He’s a nice horse. They’re both nice horses.”

Trainer Carla Gaines is hoping to knock off Baffert’s duo with Shrug, who beat a second-level allowance field last time out at Betfair Hollywood Park. Shrug lost both his starts last year at Del Mar, but they were two-turn races. The last time he sprinted here, in 2010, he defeated maidens.

“My horse didn’t run very well down here last year,” Gaines said. “That’s the only thing I’m worried about. Well, that and Coil. I guess I wouldn’t mind running second to him. My horse has been doing super.”

Mensa Heat is the lone horse in the race eligible to be claimed, for $100,000. He was taken for $62,500 last time out when finishing a troubled third at Hollywood Park. He was a two-time winner here last summer, and is 3 for 5 at Del Mar.

Doug O’Neill, the trainer of Mensa Heat, also sends out Private Zone, a Grade 1 stakes winner in Panama. This will be his first start outside that country.

The deep field also includes stakes winners Comma to the Top, Great Warrior, and Positive Response, as well as Honour the Deputy.