Papacoolpapacool brings Penn Mile form into Oceanside

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July 13th, 2015

Since the leading topic of conversation about Del Mar revolves around the new dirt track, I'm tempted to ruin Bing Crosby's famous ditty by thinking "where the dirt meets the surf" this summer. But as ever, the seaside venue's opening day feature is on the turf, Thursday's $100,000 Oceanside S., and Papacoolpapacool owns the most compelling formline going into the one-mile test.

The winner of three straight at Santa Anita earlier this year, including the March 21 Pasadena and the April 18 La Puente by 4 1/4 lengths under a hand ride, Papacoolpapacool shipped for the May 30 Penn Mile (G3). The Phil D'Amato trainee was dispatched as the 3-1 favorite in the $500,000 event, but didn't get the best of trips. Papacoolpapacool found himself farther off the pace than usual, and was relegated to last entering the far turn. Rallying on the outside into the stretch, he finished with interest for seventh in a blanket finish, beaten a grand total of 1 1/4 lengths.

That effort assumed added importance when Penn Mile winner Force the Pass came back to crush the July 4 Belmont Derby Invitational (G1), and now looms as the one to beat in the August 15 Secretariat (G1) on Arlington Million Day. Two Penn Mile also-rans have also returned to win minor stakes. My Point Exactly (fifth) won the June 20 King Cugat on the Gulfstream turf, while Gallery (eighth) just upended 3-10 favorite A Lot in a cagey front-running effort in Sunday's Manila at Belmont.

Although Papacoolpapacool is winless from three starts at Del Mar as a juvenile, the son of Temple City is an improved horse this year. Back aboard is Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, who rode him with palpable confidence in his La Puente romp.

Stevens has apparently chosen "Papa" in preference to Soul Driver, whom he guided to an emphatic 4 1/2-length victory in the June 20 Singletary last out.

On paper, Soul Driver does have to reverse form with Papa, having finished third behind him in the Pasadena. Yet to be fair, the Pasadena didn't set up well for the late runner at all. At the rear through a risible half-mile in :49, the Jeff Mullins pupil made an aggressive move to go from last to first on the far turn, and he flattened out in the lane. The Oceanside figures to produce a livelier early pace, better fitting Soul Driver's preferred one-run style. So does Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who picks up the mount aboard the relative of Grade 1-winning turf miler Victor's Cry.

Other contenders in the 12-strong field include Anytime Anyplace, second in the Pasadena and fourth in the La Puente, but victorious down the hill in his first start for Paddy Gallagher; Fueled by Bourbon, a half-brother to multiple Grade 3 winner Clearly Now who makes his stakes and two-turn debut; British synthetic specialist Thanksgiving Day, in his U.S. premiere for Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale; and such intriguing turf-firsters as Forest Blue, Tried and True and Ground Rules.

Godolphin's Tried and True was most recently third to the promising Iron Fist (the third-placer behind American Pharoah and Calculator in last year's Del Mar Futurity [G1]) in a dirt allowance. As a Medaglia d'Oro half-brother to graded turf performer True Cause, Tried and True is eligible to show more on turf. The same goes for Forest Blue, a Tale of Ekati colt out of turf stakes winner Forest Shadows (by Woodman), who was best of the rest behind Kentuckian in the Laz Barrera (G3) two back. Wygod homebred Ground Rules, who just broke his maiden at Santa Anita, is a Smart Strike colt from the immediate family of Yankee Gentleman and champion Shared Belief.

Photo of Papacoolpapacool courtesy of Benoit.