Updated on 09/15/2011 12:47PM

Once lame, 'Romance' has risen fast

Benoit & Associates
Romanceishope starts in Saturday's $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar.

DEL MAR, Calif. - As Saturday's $150,000 La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar drew closer, Romanceishope went from being a leading contender to inheriting the favorite's role.

With the defections of stakes winners Bayou the Moon and Dr. Park to the Del Mar Derby on Sept. 3, Romanceishope can win his graded stakes debut in the Grade 3 La Jolla, run for 3-year-olds over 1 1/16 miles.

At one time, such a prize seemed remote to trainer Jenine Sahadi.

"He's been a total shock," Sahadi said. "A year ago, he was lame. I didn't think he'd get to the races, let alone win 4 of 7. It took a long time to get him going."

Chris McCarron, who has not won a stakes at this meeting, rides Romanceishope. He was been aboard Romanceishope for all four wins, including his turf debut in the restricted Manila Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 23. In April, Romanceishope won the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-old California-breds. Since early April, Romanceishope has one loss in four starts, a third in the Alydar Stakes.

"On the dirt, he's more of a grinder," Sahadi said. "He seems to have a better turn of foot on turf."

Romanceishope has seven opponents in the La Jolla, all of whom have run well on turf.

A stakes winner on turf and dirt, Romanceishope shares highweight of 118 pounds with Hoovergetthekeys, a multiple stakes winner who has yet to win on turf.

Sir Alfred, the possible second choice in the betting, has drawn jockey Russell Baze for a rare Del Mar appearance. Sir Alfred won the Group 3 Ascot Handicap in an upset at Bay Meadows on June 10.

Marine, also a starter in the La Jolla, did not finish the Ascot after he was pulled up to avoid an accident. Marine won the restricted La Puente Stakes last March at Santa Anita.

Hoovergetthekeys won the El Camino Real and Golden Gate derbies on the dirt last winter, and was a game second to Sir Alfred in the Ascot.

Sea to See and Mister Approval were second and third, respectively, in a division of the Oceanside Stakes on July 18.

Cap Amiral and Dim Sums, both of whom formerly raced in Europe, complete the field. Dim Sums is making his first start since February and has never won beyond six furlongs. Cap Amiral was second in the Group 3 Prix La Force in France in May.

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