Even without Firing Line, Brubaker divisions hold intrigue

Profile Picture: Kellie Reilly

August 22nd, 2016

Smart Transition photo courtesy NYRA/Coglianese Photography

Del Mar’s traditional opening day feature, the Oceanside S., wasn’t split this year, but in an historical novelty, Wednesday’s Harry F. Brubaker has proven popular enough to warrant two divisions.

Expected to headline the first division was 2015 Kentucky Derby (G1) runner-up Firing Line, until he came up with a strained muscle. Hence the Simon Callaghan trainee will miss the one-mile test.

While that obviously deprives it of its chief protagonist, the first division still offers a point of interest. Kristo, who was briefly on the 2014 Derby trail himself when placing in the Sham (G3) and San Felipe (G2), comes off a second to Bob Baffert’s well regarded Arrogate in an August 4 allowance here.

Arrogate is bound for Saturday’s Travers (G1) at Saratoga, and a top effort from Kristo in the Brubaker would lend more substance to the form. Not that this point should be pushed too far – trying to extrapolate from an allowance win against exposed older horses to the “Midsummer Derby” against the divisional elite isn’t straightforward. That said, a timely form boost for a hot prospect never hurts.

Multiple stakes veteran Soi Phet has been installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite in the first division, carded as the 5TH race. Most recently sixth in the grassy California Dreamin’ S., the eight-year-old is happier on the dirt. Soi Phet had just missed in a pair of Cal-bred stakes prior to a clear victory in the McCann’s Mojave two back at Santa Anita.

Godolphin’s Crittenden has been highly tried, including when last behind California Chrome and Dortmund in the San Diego (G2), and this is more his level. Solid Wager, winner of the seven-furlong Cary Grant here during last fall’s Bing Crosby season, is training forwardly off a freshening for Peter Miller. Last-out allowance scorer Grazen Sky and The Gomper round out the first division.

Two races later, the second division marks the debut of the ex-Coolmore/Joseph Allen runner War Envoy for new connections, as well as the comeback of Smart Transition. With War Envoy facing a career crossroads, and Smart Transition likely using this as a starting point before stretching out, they’re understandably pegged at 12-1.

A useful juvenile for Aidan O’Brien, War Envoy placed in such notable events as the Railway (G2) and Champagne (G2), finished a close fifth in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (G1) (awarded to Full Mast upon the disqualification of Gleneagles), and didn’t see much daylight when 12th as a tepid favorite in the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1). His lone highlight at three was defying top weight of 132 pounds in Royal Ascot’s Britannia Handicap, and he ended 2015 with another Breeders’ Cup flop, this time trailing in the Dirt Mile (G1).

War Envoy subsequently joined Wesley Ward, for whom he turned in a couple of decent efforts on the turf. But having hit his ceiling, the son of War Front was sold at the Fasig-Tipton July Horses of Racing Age Sale for $150,000 in July.

Now trained by Shelbe Ruis for her family’s stable, War Envoy will get a more realistic shot on the dirt. He has a chance of taking to the surface. Although sire War Front has tended toward turf, and his dam La Conseillante was a French stakes winner, he has dirt influences in his pedigree. His broodmare sire is the versatile Elusive Quality, his second dam is by Storm Cat, and his third dam is 1988 Kentucky Derby (G1) champion Winning Colors. War Envoy has fired a pair of bullets on the dirt, one at Keeneland for Ward and a screamer of :58 from the Del Mar gate August 6. We’ll find out for sure in racing conditions, and he adds blinkers and Martin Garcia too.

Owner Arnold Zetcher was in line for a Brubaker double before the scratch of Firing Line, but he’s still got his homebred Smart Transition to go to bat. The son of Smart Strike and Zardana (who famously upset Rachel Alexandra in the 2010 New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds) is trained by the ever-patient John Shirreffs. Since he’s bred to excel with maturity, whatever he achieved at three was a bonus. It’s therefore an indicator of Smart Transition’s talent that he romped in last summer’s Curlin at Saratoga, and wasn’t disgraced when fourth in the Dwyer (G3). The Travers was a bridge too far for him, though. After an arguably subpar fourth in the sloppy Discovery (G3) in November, Smart Transition was given time off. He’s now ready to return, polishing off his series of works with a sharp half in :46 4/5 over the track August 15. 

The second division has also attracted Lieutenant Colonel, third in the Californian (G2) and sixth in the Gold Cup (G1) before a turf experiment last out; Conquest Cobra, bringing a two-race winning streak into his stakes debut; Magic Mark, making his second start off a layoff; Blue Tone, winner of the 2014 Brubaker over the old Polytrack; Avanti Bello, who’s traded decisions with first division contender Soi Phet in the Cal-bred ranks; and Songforjohnmichael.