Bal a Bali looks to keep momentum going in Seabiscuit

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November 23rd, 2015

Brazilian Triple Crown winner Bal a Bali has had mixed fortunes since arriving in the United States, but the Richard Mandella trainee may have turned the corner, and hopes to prove the point in Del Mar’s $250,000 Seabiscuit (G2) on Friday. The 1 1/16-mile turf test shapes up as a contentious affair, with Seek Again shipping in and California mainstays Alert Bay, Avanzare, and Midnight Storm in the mix.

Bal a Bali was imported last year, riding an eight-race winning streak, in hopes of making the Breeders’ Cup. His first misadventure began while still in quarantine in Miami, when he came down with laminitis. After beating that dread disease, the Fox Hill Farms and Siena Farms prospect joined Mandella. He lived up to his lofty reputation with a smooth victory in the May 9 American (G3), but was only fifth next time in the June 13 Shoemaker Mile (G1) over the same mile trip at Santa Anita.

It turned out that Bal a Bali sustained a minor injury (according to the Fox Hill Farms Facebook page). Back for the August 23 Del Mar Mile (G2), he found some traffic trouble en route to a one-paced fifth. Bal a Bali was freshened for another two months, dropped into an allowance, and got a change of rider to Rafael Bejarano. Everything clicked in that October 30 prep over the course, and Bal a Bali swept to a clear decision. His numerous fan club hopes that it’s onwards and upwards.

Seek Again has tended to give his backers fits as a trouble magnet. It wasn’t always thus. Originally based in England with John Gosden, the Juddmonte Farms homebred made a splash in his U.S. debut in the 2013 Hollywood Derby (G1). In his first start for Bill Mott, Seek Again nearly upset future Hall of Famer Wise Dan in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) on 2014 Kentucky Derby Day, and he later overcame a traffic snarl to take the Fourstardave (G2) in course-record time at Saratoga. But he hasn’t found the winner’s circle in the year since, at times with excuses in tow. A belated fourth to Grand Arch and The Pizza Man in the October 3 Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland last out, Seek Again hopes that his luck turns here. He’s got it in him, if Jose Lezcano can coax the right trip for him.

The versatile Alert Bay is adept on all three surfaces, but his current three-race winning streak is all on turf. Most notable in that span is the September 27 City of Hope Mile (G2) at Santa Anita, where he rallied off a scorching pace to win well. Trainer Blaine Wright used a November 6 allowance at his Golden Gate Fields base as a prep, and Alert Bay showed commendable resolve to battle for the score in a slow-early, fast-late race shape. The City Zip gelding should be helped by a much faster pace on tap here, and he picks up Mario Gutierrez. The Tom Proctor-trained Avanzare has landed two of this circuit’s notable mile races, the January 31 Arcadia (G2) and the aforementioned Del Mar Mile off a seven-month layoff. Dispatched as the 8-5 favorite to make it a hat trick in the City of Hope Mile, he was perhaps too close to a scorching pace and finished third.

The pace promises to come from speedball Midnight Storm, who wired last year’s Del Mar Derby (G2) and an April 16 Santa Anita allowance in his comeback. The son of Pioneerof the Nile should have made more use of that speed in the Shoemaker, but he got off to an awkward start, and ended up prompting instead. Still, Midnight Storm almost pulled it off, only to be run down by the ill-fated Talco. Seek Again was a non-threatening third. After a trio of losses in the interim, Midnight Storm aims to get back on track for new rider Victor Espinoza. He is one of three representing the Phil D’Amato barn, along with Toowindytohaulrox, who was elevated to third after trouble in the Eddie D (G3), and Irish-bred Abbey Vale, who cuts back in trip from 1 1/4 miles.

Midnight Storm’s former rider, Tyler Baze, is on the other pace factor, Argentinian import Macro Access. That Group 2 winner has flashed speed in two of three U.S. starts, including his 35-1 upset in a recent Santa Anita allowance. Macro Access has the rail. Parked outside in post 9 is Big Bane Theory, who’s been disappointing since garnering the 2014 City of Hope.

Bal a Bali photo courtesy of Benoit.