07/19/2011 2:26PM

Del Mar: Late Cuddle cuts back on Polytrack


DEL MAR, Calif. – There’s no racing at Churchill Downs the day after the Kentucky Derby, or at Pimlico the day after the Preakness, or at Belmont Park the day after the Belmont Stakes, so it’s quite possible that the greatest contrast in consecutive racing days in North America is here at Del Mar, where 10,000 or so regulars take back the track on Thursday after the departure of the once-a-year poseurs who make up the 40,000 or so who turn up for opening-day Wednesday.

Those hardy second-day souls will be treated to an old-school, meat-and-potatoes eight-race card, including an intriguing feature race for older females with distance runners, turf horses, and sprinters fighting it out at seven furlongs on Polytrack.

The switch to a synthetic surface affords Late Cuddle a chance to try the main track for the first time, and the move to a sprint may help bring back her best form. The New Zealand import was a terror in turf sprints early in her career in her native land, but she owns just one win in seven two-turn grass starts since being imported one year ago.

“Her best form is at seven-eighths,” said Dan Ward, the local assistant to Late Cuddle’s trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer. “She trained like a super horse on the synthetic at Hollywood.”

Late Cuddle is making only her second start since February. Earlier this month, she was fifth of six in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine on turf at Hollywood Park.

“When she first came over, we just went right on with her, but at some point those imports need a break, and it looked like she was tailing off earlier this year,” Ward said.

Seven are entered in the optional claimer, with only Talktoomuch in for the $100,000 claiming price. Like Late Cuddle, Talktoomuch is a compelling turn-back play. She has gone long in her last three starts, but her best race this year came in a turf sprint on Santa Anita’s hillside course.

Trainers Bob Baffert and Pete Eurton each have two runners in the race. Baffert’s entrants, Excellent News and Salty Sarah, have different owners, so they are uncoupled, while Eurton’s pair of Jet Blue Girl and She’s Cheeky are a coupled betting entry.

Excellent News beat a second-level allowance field at Hollywood in her last start, while Salty Sarah, winner of her lone try at Del Mar, is making her first start in six months.

“She’s doing well,” Baffert said. “She had a little problem with her hind end, nothing serious. But seven-eighths here can be very demanding.”