Turf sprinter in Scully’s spotlight at Del Mar Friday

Profile Picture: James Scully

July 17th, 2015

Del Mar opened Thursday with an exciting 10-race card and a new dirt track that received rave reviews.

The opener offered a trio of two-turn races on the turf course, which was redone for the 2014 summer meet, and being forwardly-placed on the green played well, resulting in a pair of wins as well as a strong performance from Forest Blue, who finished a nose second at 8-1 after setting the pace in the Oceanside.

Friday’s eight-race program, which gets underway at 4 p.m. (PT), features the first turf sprint of the meet and I’ve landed on a potential value play for my best bet.

Pica (#10) is listed at 6-1 on the morning line in Race 5, a non-winner of two “other than” allowance/optional claimer for fillies and mares at five furlongs, and the mare will be making her first start for trainer Eddie Truman after being claimed for $40,000 from a June 14 victory down the hill at Santa Anita.

A five-year-old, Pica has raced only 13 times in her career but fitness won’t be a concern given a steady stream of six starts since mid-January. On Friday, the chestnut will be making only her third attempt on turf, which appears to be her best surface, and I believe she has plenty of upside for her new connections.

Pica made her turf debut in April 2014 at Santa Anita, missing by only 1 ¾ lengths in fourth in a sneaky performance. The winner that afternoon, Velvet Mystique, wound up winning stakes races later in the season and finished third as the favorite in the Monrovia (G2) earlier this year. The runner-up and third-place finishers also went on to perform well in what turned out to be a very deep entry-level allowance.

However, Pica headed to the sidelines afterward and wasn’t seen again under silks until January. Former trainer Peter Miller switched her back to the main track for her next five starts and Pica didn’t perform poorly, recording a win and a runner-up effort, but her dirt form was nothing special and she was dropped back down to the claiming ranks last time.

Pica responded with a game win and I loved the claim by her new connections. Her dirt form was misleading, similar to another savvy claim last winter, Singing Kitty, who was dropped down for a tag after a trio of unplaced efforts on dirt. Claimed for $32,000 that afternoon, Singing Kitty promptly captured a pair of turf stakes in her next three outings.

Pica won’t be facing an imposing cast of rivals on Friday and is well-drawn in gate 9 – middle and outside posts dominated turf sprints at Del Mar last summer. The mare owns plenty of speed, racing on or very close to the lead in her last three starts, and jockey Rafael Bejarano will be able to allow the action to develop to his inside if he doesn’t seize the initiative from the start.

And bettors are eligible to take a dim view of her chances from a class perspective given six of her rivals are exiting stakes company and she was in a claiming race.

I’m looking forward to playing her.