07/23/2010 3:36PM

San Clemente draws a deep cast of fillies

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DEL MAR, Calif. – The horse shortage in California does not apply to 3-year-old fillies on grass at Del Mar.

The proof is the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on Sunday, a $150,000 mile race that interestingly overshadows the richer, more prestigious Grade 1, $250,000 American Oaks run three weeks ago at Hollywood Park. It’s the same division Sunday, but a better field.

“Is the San Clemente tougher than the American Oaks? Absolutely,” trainer Jim Cassidy said. “It’s twice as tough.”

Cassidy is qualified to make the assessment. He trains San Clemente favorite Evening Jewel, who skipped the 1 1/4-mile American Oaks to aim for two Del Mar races – the one-mile San Clemente and Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 21.

“The mistake we made was not running in the American Oaks,” Cassidy said.

Instead of the American Oaks, won by allowance-caliber Harmonious, Evening Jewel faces a stronger, deeper field in the San Clemente. Thirteen entered, 10 can start, and though Evening Jewel is the deserving favorite, she is no slam dunk.

It Tiz seeks her third straight after an impressive win in a minor stakes; Switch changes surfaces after defeating Blind Luck on the main track at Hollywood; Fortunia ships in from Lone Star, where she gave top older mare Wasted Tears all she could handle last out.

Along with Santa Anita Oaks winner Crisp and Grade 2 winner City to City, the San Clemente shapes up as the most competitive turf races of the season in California.

Evening Jewel emerged as one of the country’s top fillies winning the Grade 1 Ashland and missing by a nose in the Kentucky Oaks. Evening Jewel has 4 wins, 5 seconds, and is racing for the first time since May 31 when she won the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap on turf. Tom and Marilyn Brady own Evening Jewel; Victor Espinoza rides.

It Tiz enters on a conspicuous upswing, with two recent wins including a sharp score July 1 in an overnight stakes. The San Clemente “is definitely going to be the acid test for her,” trainer Mark Glatt said. Owned by Allen and Susan Branch, It Tiz has won 4 of 8, and will make only her third start of the year.

“We leaned on her pretty hard as a 2-year-old,” Glatt said, explaining why It Tiz took the winter off. She would have returned sooner than June, but her comeback stalled when she came down with what Glatt called a “nasty foot abcess.” Two wins this year include a second-level allowance against older and the $64,000 Le Cle, both under David Flores.

City to City was favored in the American Oaks, but finished fifth. Was it the 1 1/4-mile distance that got her beat?

“We’re thinking that, but we’re not sure,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “Her pedigree didn’t figure to be a mile-and-a-quarter pedigree.”

Sired by City Zip, the 5-for-14 City to City benefits turning back to a mile in the San Clemente. She also may prefer a more patient ride than she received last out. Rafael Bejarano replaces Joel Rosario, who stays with Crisp.

Crisp and Switch both are trained by John Sadler.

“We didn’t scare anybody, did we?,” Sadler said, commenting on the San Clemente field size.

Switch defeated Blind Luck in the Hollywood Oaks on June 6 and will be making her first start on grass. Why now?

“It’s where the program goes down here” at Del Mar, Sadler said. “We worked her twice on turf, and she worked very, very well.”

Sadler believes the mile distance suits 2-for-6 Switch, while he believes Santa Anita Oaks winner Crisp “needs farther, she needs a mile and one-eighth.”

Sadler-trained Cozi Rosie would have been favored in the American Oaks, but scratched the day before the race with concern over an ankle. Sadler said she would be re-evaluated in early September, and he expects Cozi Rosie to return later this fall.

Fortunia ships in to Del Mar after a big runner-up finish against older fillies and mares in a Grade 3 at Lone Star. Trained by Cash Asmussen, Fortunia finished only a neck behind Wasted Tears, who has won 9 of her last 10 starts. Tony McNeil, who has never ridden at Del Mar, will be aboard Fortunia.

Other San Clemente entrants include Southern Fireball, Weekend Magic, Crisis of Spirit, Repo, Conniption, Got an Itch, and Our Georgia.