Grade 1 winner Dunbar Road tops the field for the 83rd renewal of the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park on Saturday, a unique renewal because it’s the first time the prestigious event will be contested at 1-⅛ miles.
Since its inception in 1937, the Del Cap has been run at 1-1/16 miles (1937 through 1950) and at 1-¼ miles (1951 through 2019). This year, management changed the distance to 1-⅛ miles and reduced the purse from $750,000 to $400,000 because of the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, which delayed the start of the meet.
Reducing the purse of the Del Cap and trimming the stakes schedule allowed Delaware Park purses to remain essentially the same as in 2019. The cutback in distance was to accommodate horses whose training schedules were affected by the closure of racetracks due to the pandemic.
Tabbed at 6-5 in the Del Cap morning line, Dunbar Road captured the Gr. 2 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont last year as a 3-year-old, followed by a victory in the Gr. 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. This year, she won the Shawnee Stakes at Churchill Downs May 23 in her first start in six months for trainer Chad Brown and owner Peter M. Brant. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who has been on a roll in New York, will ride.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is sending a pair to Delaware Park – Gr. 3 Comely winner Bellera for Mathis Stable, Madaket Stables and Doheny Racing Stable, as well as Repole Stables’ Always Shopping, who won the Gr. 2 Gazelle Handicap last year. Bellera is second-choice on the morning line at 7-2 with jockey Trevor McCarthy, while Always Shopping is third choice at 5-1 with local leading rider Carol Cedeno.
Without a lot of speed in the Del Cap, Pletcher’s pair may both find themselves on or near the lead.
A local runner who has a big chance to upset the apple cart for the second time in a row at Delaware this season is Ten Strike Racing’s Lucky Move, trained by Juan Carlos Guerrero.
The daughter of Lookin at Lucky prevailed June 17 in the $100,000 Obeah Stakes, the traditional prep race for the Del Cap, at a healthy 42-1. Roberto J. Rosado, who piloted her to a five-wide sweeping score that day, is back aboard.
Lucky Move had been competing in allowance and claiming company at Kentucky tracks prior to her being haltered by current owner, Ten Strike Racing, for $30,000 out of a race at Churchill Downs last April. Three starts later, she was stakes-placed.
Ten Strike, which has had enormous success the last few years, eventually sent her to Guerrero at Parx Racing, where she is stabled with 14 of their horses. The partnership group is primarily based at Oaklawn Park but races at all major racetracks in the Midwest and East Coast.
“She’s a big mare,” said Marshall Gramm, a founding partner of Ten Strike with Clay Sanders. “She’s bred for stamina – Lookin at Lucky over a Quiet American mare. I love Lookin at Lucky. I’ve owned a dozen of them, at least. They are dirt routers and get better with age. We claimed her last April with an eye on the New York-bred N1X going 1-⅛ miles, but I never dreamed of winning the Obeah and then running in the Delaware Handicap.”
In this their fifth full year of business, Ten Strike is on the brink of $9 million in total earnings and could possibly top $10 million thanks to the exploits of stakes competitors like Gr. 1 winner Long on Value; homebred Dot Matrix, winner of the John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes (Gr. 3) and $621,487, plus Razorback Handicap (Gr. 3) winner Warrior’s Charge and Critical Value, another homebred who recently won the Bouwerie Stakes at Belmont Park.
Ten Strike was ranked 15th nationally by wins in 2017 and 19th last year, and were among the leading owners at Parx Racing the last four years.
“When we ran Lucky Move in the Obeah, I didn’t realize that the Del Cap had been shortened,” said Gramm, an economics professor and an expert handicapper, having annually competed in the NHC Handicapping Tournament in Las Vegas and finishing ninth last year. “We ran in the Obeah as a prep and I would’ve been happy just to hit the board. But she ran big and is coming into (the Del Cap) really well.”
Gramm said it’s hard to see how the race will play out without much speed in the field, and that he believes Lucky Move would be better at 1-¼ miles. Yet given the luck Ten Strike has had recently, it would be unwise to write off her chances entirely.
Also entered in the Del Cap are Calumet Farm’s Vexatious, trained by Jack Sisterson and with Miguel Mena to ride; Warwick Stable’s Wicked Awesome, trained at Laurel by A. Ferris Allen with Horacio Karamanos named; Chad Schumer’s Saracosa, conditioned by Cipriano Contreras and with Martin Garcia up, and G. Watts Humphrey Jr’s Over Thinking, trained by Victoria Oliver and Jaime Rodriguez in the irons.
Post time for the Del Cap is 4:45 pm. The race highlights a program that also features the $75,000 Dashing Beauty Stakes, and the $125,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes.