08/18/2011 2:42PM

Del Mar Oaks may be Entrustment's time to shine


How tough was it to get into the field for the Del Mar Oaks? Tough enough. The three fillies who failed to draw into the original body of the field are trained by Hall of Famers Ron McAnally, Richard Mandella and Jerry Hollendorfer.

No one stands on ceremony at this level, though. Achievement must be reflected in black and white, and the tyranny of the group and graded race systems prevails, with placings in such events taking precedent when it comes to admission.

That is why Halo Dolly, a winner of four straight in Northern California, might be watching from the sidelines along with Rosehill Dew, who missed third by a half-length in the Grade 2 San Clemente over the course on July 24, while Singapore Lily, eighth in the Grade 2 Honeymoon at Hollywood Park, gets a free pass because she hit the board in a pair of Italian group races last October.

This is neither the time nor place to argue the relative merits of winning the Diamond Jubilee Stakes with a 92 Beyer at the Sonoma County Fair on July 30 and finishing third in the Premio Dormello at San Siro or second in the Italian Gran Criterium 10 months ago. Wine country is wine country, right?

Anyway, it makes perfect sense that anyone with a 3-year-old filly of more than ordinary ability would want to tee it up for a quarter-million at Del Mar, plus prestige. The Oaks has been won by some good ones, including champions Turkish Trousers, Heartlight No. One, Flawlessly, Hollywood Wildcat, and Golden Apples.

Among the 10 set to run on Saturday there is hardly a leader of the pack. In fact, it’s been more like mob rule. At one time or another, brief obeisance has been granted Sarah’s Secret, Up In Time, Summer Soiree, Bizzy Caroline, Star Billing, Nereid, and Cambina. Those last two reside temporarily at the top by virtue of their dead heat in the July 16 American Oaks at Hollywood Park, but they’ve not run since. Uneasy lies the head, and all that jazz.

Cambina is an Irish-bred daughter of the Coolmore stallion Hawk Wing, whose breathtaking victory in the 2003 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury is still the stuff of bedtime stories for impressionable young ones. She is by far the most accomplished filly in the pack, with victories in the La Habra, China Doll, and Providencia to go along with her American Oaks, and she will be strongly bet at Del Mar.

But what, then, do you do with a filly who has been literally at Cambina’s throat at the end of their last three starts. Her name is Entrustment, a daughter of Forestry who has done everything but win one of the significant local races for the division this year.

In the Senorita at a mile, Entrustment, at 43-1, finished second to Star Billing and beat Cambina a neck in the process. In the Honeymoon at 1 1/8 miles Entrustment was fourth to Sarah’s Secret, a half-length off third-place Cambina and coming on strong. And in the cluster at the end of the 10-furlong American Oaks, that was Entrustment in the middle of the scrum, finishing fourth but only a neck back of the dual winners.

After all this foreplay, could it be Entrustment’s turn? Her trainer, Paddy Gallagher, was asked the simple question.

“It’s tough,” Gallagher replied. “And the closer it gets the tougher it looks.”

This was Thursday morning, which gave Gallagher two more days to work on his natural fears. The trainer did confess, under pressure, that Entrustment was doing well and training well, and that she seemed to be improving a little bit with each and every race.

“Of course,” he added, “if the others are doing the same . . . “

Okay, okay. We didn’t come for a tout. If Entrustment jumps up with a big race in the Oaks no one should be surprised, despite the fact she’ll be among the taller prices in the field. Gallagher began training her earlier this year for Theresa and Ed Denike after winning 1 of 3 last year for her Northern California handler, Lloyd Mason.

“She’s a nice-sized filly who’s very easy on herself,” Gallagher noted. “We were getting her ready for Hollywood Park and we wanted to get her on the grass. But her races wouldn’t fill down here, so we sent her up north where she ran under Lloyd’s name.”

Entrustment won that April allowance event at Golden Gate Fields, then set upon the path that has her to the Del Mar Oaks.

Jim Cassidy, who trains Singapore Lily, has been pretty much in charge of the Del Mar Oaks recently, winning with Evening Jewel (2010) and Singhalese (2005) and finishing second with Ticker Tape (2004). Gallagher, though, is not far behind. He won it in 2008 with Magical Fantasy and finished second with Valbenny in 2007 and Three Degrees in 2005. It therefore made perfect sense that a promising 3-year-old filly like Entrustment would come his way, although he was understandably reluctant to compare her to his previous Oaks fillies, especially the accomplished Magical Fantasy.

“At least,“ Gallagher said, “she’s getting the same lessons so far.”