11/10/2017 2:26PM

Hard to gauge favorites in Betty Grable Stakes

Benoit & Associates
Majestic Heat (right) is a turf route specialist, who will make her first start on dirt in Sunday's Betty Grable.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Want to bet against the two favorites in the Betty Grable Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar? Easy enough.

After all, Majestic Heat’s specialty is a turf route, not a dirt sprint. As for How About Zero, she is wheeling back way too soon – 25 days – following a career-best comeback victory.

Want to back a legit contender in the Betty Grable? That, too, is simple enough. After all, Majestic Heat is the class of the field, and How About Zero’s flashy 90 Beyer Speed Figure is the top last-out figure.

Somehow, handicappers must reconcile the pros and cons of the favorites, which is only the first step. Six other California-bred fillies and mares merit attention in the $100,000 Betty Grable, a seven-furlong dirt race that includes stakes winners Bad Ju Ju, Cuddle Alert, and Barbara Beatrice.

Although favorites won four of the last seven runnings of the Betty Grable Stakes (previously the Cat’s Cradle at Hollywood Park), the 2017 edition is tough to decipher. How About Zero is the 3-1 favorite while making her first start following an impressive comeback; none are wheeling back quicker than 7-2 second choice Majestic Heat.

Majestic Heat ran just last weekend, Breeders’ Cup Saturday at Del Mar. She finished sixth of 14 in the Grade 2 Goldikova Stakes at one mile on turf. Trainer Richard Mandella was stumped. He also had a backup plan.

“She didn’t run much the other day. I don’t think she got much of a race,” Mandella said. “She came out kicking and bucking, so I’m going to try it right back.”

It is more than a whim. Although Majestic Heat is a two-time stakes winner whose first 14 starts were on turf, Mandella has seen enough in dirt workouts to give her a shot in a dirt race.

“She’s always worked like she would run well on dirt. She worked [fast] back when I wanted her to, so I’ve always wanted to try it,” he said.

Majestic Heat posted the fastest of 25 half-mile dirt works July 17 at Del Mar, and a 59.20-second workout at Santa Anita on Oct. 23, 2016, was the fastest of 96 works at five furlongs that day.

How About Zero faces a similar turf-to-dirt challenge, having won her comeback in a turf sprint at Santa Anita. The difference is that How About Zero is proven on dirt, having won the Golden State Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar a year ago.

Footing is not a worry for trainer Doug O’Neill. His concern is based on form. Specifically, can How About Zero run as well in her second start back as she ran in her Oct. 19 comeback?

“To run your career-best off a layoff like that … we’re optimistic, but it’s a tall order to go from [a California-bred turf sprint] to stakes fillies going seven-eighths on dirt,” O’Neill said.

One thing is certain – how About Zero is a better filly this fall than last winter.

“She’s definitely a bigger, stronger version from earlier in the year,” O’Neill said.