08/22/2013 11:50AM

Del Mar Handicap good spot for Vagabond Shoes to earn first U.S. win

Shigeki Kikkawa
Vagabond Shoed, a multiple stakes winner in Europe, will try to snap a seven-race losing streak in the Del Mar Handicap.

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DEL MAR, Calif. – For the first time in his 25-race career, Vagabond Shoes races at 1 3/8 miles on turf in Saturday’s $200,000 Del Mar Handicap. The distance and surface give trainer John Sadler confidence that the 6-year-old Vagabond Shoes can end a seven-race losing streak and win his first stakes in the United States.

A stakes winner in France in 2011 and 2012 and second last out in the Grade 1 Eddie Read Stakes, Vagabond Shoes is the 119-pound highweight in a modest field for the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. None of the seven runners has won a graded stakes in this country in 2013, although Holding Glory won a Group 1 race in Brazil in March.

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The Del Mar Handicap will be the sixth start with Sadler for Vagabond Shoes, who has won six races.

“He had good form in Europe, but he was disappointing the first few times he ran here,” Sadler said. “I never lost confidence that he would come around. He started to improve.”

The Del Mar Handicap drew a field of seven, but may have only six runners. Trainer A.C. Avila said earlier this week that he was “85 percent sure” that Holding Glory would run in Sunday’s $1 million Pacific Classic on Sunday.

The Del Mar Handicap field includes another Group 1 winner in Lucayan, who won the French 2000 Guineas in May 2012. The other starters are Fire With Fire, Huntsville, Mr T Bird, and Old Time Hockey.

Vagabond Shoes won two Group 3 races in France at a mile. He ran in eight Group 2 and Group 3 races in Europe, including a third in a Group 2 in Germany last August.

Owned by Kosta Hronis, Vagabond Shoes was unplaced in his first three starts in this country, which all came this year in stakes, before finishing second by a nose in an optional claimer over a mile on turf at Betfair Hollywood Park. Vagabond Shoes was eligible to be claimed for $62,500 that day.

In the Eddie Read Stakes on July 20, Vagabond Shoes rallied from seventh in a field of nine to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind Jeranimo, who starts in Sunday’s Pacific Classic.

“Jeranimo was just better the other day,” Sadler said. “My horse ran a very solid race.”

The way that Vagabond Shoes finished the Read Stakes over 1 1/8 miles has left Sadler optimistic that the gelding will be effective at a longer distances.

Lucayan runs in the longest race of his career in the Del Mar Handicap. A 4-year-old colt trained by Neil Drysdale, Lucayan was third in an optional claimer over a mile on turf here on Aug. 1, closing from last in a field of nine.

“He made up a lot of ground,” Drysdale said.

Lucayan was considered for the Arlington Million last weekend, Drysdale said, but he opted to keep him in California. From Drysdale’s perspective, Lucayan’s chances on Saturday should be helped by the quick nature of the Del Mar turf course.

“I think he’s more of a mile and a quarter horse,” Drysdale said. “But this thing is playing so fast.”

Fire With Fire won the Joseph Grace Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf at Santa Rosa on Aug. 4, finishing in course record time of 1:40.67. A 5-year-old gelding trained by Drysdale, Fire With Fire is well suited to the longer distance of the Del Mar Handicap. Earlier this year, Fire With Fire was third in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Santa Anita in March. He was a well-beaten fifth in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf in April.