08/18/2011 2:48PM

Del Mar Oaks: Hard to side against Summer Soiree

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Summer Soiree ships in as a big favorite for Saturday's Del Mar Oaks.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The handicapping notebook is full again, with stuff like this:

* It is fun to bet against low-odds shippers in California stakes, but when Summer Soiree runs Saturday in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, local fillies Nereid and Cambina may have met their match. Summer Soiree romped by 8 1/2 lengths last out at Monmouth, earning a 99 Beyer in her first try on turf. If she runs two alike, the Del Mar Oaks is history.

* Many trip handicappers believe Cambina would have won the American Oaks outright if she had not steadied in the stretch. But her dead-heat rival, Nereid, also ran super, setting the pace for 1 1/4 miles in only her fourth career start. With a target to chase in the Del Mar Oaks, and a Grade 1 under her belt, Nereid can finish in front of Cambina in the race for place.

* Wonder how many Del Mar Oaks winners later produced a 46-1 claiming-race winner? It happened at Del Mar on Wednesday. Thrice the Vice, out of 1994 Del Mar Oaks winner Twice the Vice, scored the biggest upset of summer – $94.80.

* Maybe it is time to pay closer attention to Del Mar longshots by Benchmark. He sired the biggest upset winners of summer – Thrice the Vice ($94.80) in an $8,000 claimer and Benny’s Benchmark ($89.40) in a $20,000 maiden claimer Aug. 6.

* The 2-year-old colt Sweet Swap makes his debut Saturday in race 6 at Del Mar, with shoes to fill. Owned by Jenny Craig and trained by John Sadler, Sweet Swap is a full brother to 7-for-14 millionaire Sidney’s Candy. By the way, Sidney’s Candy lost his debut as a 2-year-old at Del Mar two summers ago.

* Drill still has gate issues, but when the 2-year-old colt finally gets his act together, he will be a star. He broke slow again Aug. 13, yet defeated maidens anyway after a suicidal 44.84-second opening half. Drill runs Sept. 7 in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, a race his trainer, Bob Baffert, has won nine times the last 15 years.

* The funny thing is that Drill might need a new jockey for the Futurity. He was ridden by Rafael Bejarano, who is the regular rider for Futurity favorite Creative Cause; jockey Martin Garcia currently prefers Secret Circle, whom he has only worked, over Drill.

* If the good 3-year-old filly Royal Delta starts close to her 6-1 morning line in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga, she might be the most attractive gamble of the weekend. Royal Delta should improve many lengths second start back from a short layoff, and 1 1/4 miles is a perfect distance for the daughter of Empire Maker.

* If the 3-year-old fillies in the Alabama take turns the rest of the season, and if Turbulent Descent defeats older in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, would Eclipse Award voters dare give the 3-year-old filly championship to a sprinter?

* Is there a cinch in the Travers? The Jim Dandy blowout by Stay Thirsty earned a 106 Beyer, which towers over his likely rivals. Furthermore, the Travers has been won by the Jim Dandy winner three of the last six years. Stay Thirsty might not be as good as Jim Dandy-Travers winners Street Sense, Bernardini, and Flower Alley. But he won’t need to be.

* How good are the top 2-year-olds in New York? A clue is revealed Saturday in race 4 at Delaware Park. Jack’s in the Deck, winner of the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont, and third to Overdriven in the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga, is favored in a six-furlong Delaware allowance. If the New York 2-year-olds are decent, then Jack’s in the Deck should coast.

* It is tough to generate any allegiance to the best turf horse to race this year in the U.S. That is because Cape Blanco spends no time in the U.S., nor does trainer Aidan O’Brien. Cape Blanco went home to Europe again after the Arlington Million, his second U.S. Grade 1 and second round trip. Out of sight, out of mind, until the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

* Before leaving Del Mar for a speaking engagement this week at Northlands in Edmonton, jockey Mike Smith said, “I need the money.” Smith was joking, although it has been an unremarkable summer. After more than a month of Del Mar racing, Smith had two wins – the Oceanside Stakes back on opening day, and a match race with Chantal Sutherland. Don’t worry, pretty sure Smith is OK financially.

* Props to Del Mar for the novelty head-to-head wager, but don’t expect the bet to return next summer. No one cares. The bet handled $31,413 opening weekend and declined steadily since then to a low $18,141 last weekend. This week’s head-to-head is the Del Mar Oaks with two anonymous fillies – Entrustment vs. Celestial Kitten. Yawn.

* The calendar pages are turning quickly. Only 20 days until the $50,000 Beverly Lewis Stakes on Sept. 9, opening day of the Los Angeles County Fair meet at Fairplex Park.

* The Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile is Sunday at Emerald Downs, and they sure made it tough for the favorite. Noosa Beach’s seven-race winning streak includes the 2010 Longacres Mile; he is 13-for-18 overall at Emerald. Unfortunately for Noosa Beach, he drew post 11 on top of the clubhouse turn, and he carries 125-pound top weight.

* The 2-year-old filly Eileen’s Dream was billed as the real deal before her Aug. 14 debut at Del Mar. Favored at 8-5, she pressed the pace, surrendered, and finished ninth. Trainer John Sadler said she came out of the race with tender feet and will not start until the fall meet on dirt at Santa Anita. If she runs to her smashing workouts, look out.

* Composer-horse owner Burt Bacharach quietly has become a big fan of Burns, winner of the La Jolla Handicap. Bacharach’s best horse was Afternoon Deelites, whose stallion career was, well, unexceptional. However, Afternoon Deelites is the broodmare sire of Burns, and Bacharach is getting a big kick from watching Burns develop into a top turf horse.