09/04/2008 11:00PM

Del Mar oval a learning curve


PHOENIX – The summer school session is over. It’s time to take stock of some of the things we may have learned at Del Mar University.

The track: After the furor over the 2007 season, when the track played quickly in the morning but slowed down dramatically during the races, things calmed down considerably. Race times were more “dirt-like” this meet, the second season of Polytrack.

Bob Baffert and Midshipman: Rumors of the demise of Baffert were premature, to say the least. The likes of Indian Blessing and Tough Tiz’s Sis have kept his name prominent, though maybe not be to the degree we saw a few years ago. He could have a major 2-year-old and perhaps a Derby player with the way Midshipman won Wednesday’s Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity.

Once the king of the 2-year-old trainers, Baffert merely won every Del Mar Futurity from 1996 to 2002. Midshipman, a son of Unbridled’s Song, gave him his eighth win in the race.

Midshipman had to overcome some obstacles, too. He had run just two weeks before the Futurity, which he won by making a long, wide run. According to Baffert, his next races will be the Grade 1 Norfolk at Santa Anita Sept. 28 and then, if all goes well, the big dance, the Oct. 25 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile – which give Baffert more chances to get back into the spotlight.

Stardom Bound: It wasn’t just that she won the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante – she won it in a laugher. She was last early, but by the time they hit the sixteenth pole it was a one-filly show. And to make matters worse for her foes, she is bred to get better with more ground. While pulling up, while her rivals were gasping for air, she was reportedly squealing and playing. That’s not good if you’re planning on taking her on in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Turf milers: At Santa Anita it was Ever a Friend, and then Daytona. Daytona carried through into Hollywood, but then Whatsthescript took control. Monzante put in his two cents’ worth at the start of Del Mar, before Whatsthescript thumbed his nose back at them by the end of the meet.

In other words, we have seen a version of musical chairs with the Southern California milers. But even with this year’s – and next year’s – Breeders’ Cup Mile being held at Santa Anita, things could be difficult for the home team. Kip Deville, the defending champ, runs Sunday in the Woodbine Mile, and there’s a whole host of Euros just waiting to get a crack at a bunch of American horses playing what they deem is their game.

Zenyatta: She’s an absolute monster, and there has been a clamoring for this unbeaten female to take on the boys in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Trainer John Shirreffs, however, isn’t likely to take such a risk.

She’s one up on main Eclipse rival Ginger Punch, having whipped her in Oaklawn’s Grade 1 Apple Blossom – on dirt no less. Her Grade 2 Clement Hirsch win at Del Mar was her typical powerhouse performance, and the Beyer Speed Figure reflects that. In fact, the Beyer Figure 108 she earned was a career-best. Could it be she’s getting even better?

Of course, she must maintain this kind of form. Ginger Punch has rebounded to her championship form. Hystericalady is cruising under the radar with thoroughly top-class form. And we sure know the 3-year-old Music Note is all quality.

Go Between: The Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner has found himself since moving to synthetic surfaces, and of course with the Breeders’ Cup Classic on such footing his bandwagon is picking up a few occupants.

Now, Go Between is surely a nice horse, but it’s not like he has been a monster on synthetics. While he ran well in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap he still got beaten (by Heatseeker). While he ran well in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup he still got beaten (by Mast Track). His Pacific Classic win was quite smart, and it was a game Well Armed he beat late. But is Well Armed truly a 10-furlong horse?

While Curlin’s BC Classic status remains up in the air, Big Brown’s people said he’s coming. Henrythenavigator’s people said he’s coming, and Casino Drive’s people said he’s coming. I would imagine big efforts from Colonel John and Mambo in Seattle in their next starts would punch their tickets, too.

Go Between is solid and durable, and almost surely will run his race, but is that really enough to beat those guys?