Analysis: Extra Hope's the one to play in Del Mar's Native Diver

November 21, 2019 02:45pm
Even though Roadster is a logical morning line favorite in Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar, he should be viewed with skepticism.

Some bettors figure to single him as a former Kentucky Derby also-ran and Santa Anita Derby (G1) hero against lesser-knowns competition. But I don't view this as a one-horse race.

For example, in Roadster's most recent start, he finished runner-up as the 7/5 second choice in the non-graded Damascus Stakes on the Breeders' Cup Saturday undercard. In fairness, he entered the race off a 139-day layoff, but Roadster had every opportunity to win and came up just short.

In the early stages of the Damascus, Roadster never fell more than two lengths off the lead, giving him a fair chance to close. Perhaps the blinkers helped.

The favorite, older sprinter Flagstaff, began to inch closer on the turn, with Roadster beginning his move too just outside of him. The duo ran together.

But Flagstaff always held the advantage despite an all-out ride from Irad Oritz Jr. on Roadster, and eventually Flagstaff prevailed by a nose.

Despite the good effort by Roadster, it is disappointing to see a horse take dead aim in the clear and fail to pass the leader. His most obvious excuse was the layoff, but Roadster trained regularly leading into the race with eight workouts on a weekly basis since Sept. 12. And trainer Bob Baffert usually has them ready to win off the bench.

Roadster could move forward in his second start off the layoff. But this colt is not trustworthy enough to take alone, especially not at low odds.

Given Roadster's potential to disappoint, it is logical to use another horse alongside the anticipated favorite, or perhaps against. At 6/1, Extra Hope is a worthy alternative to consider.

Extra Hope returned off a layoff in a Sept. 27 allowance turf race at Santa Anita. He finished a dismal seventh by nine lengths, showing little.

Next, Extra Hope tried the Damascus and ran better, hitting the wire third, 1 3/4 lengths behind Flagstaff and Roadster. The encouraging part is the gallop out, as he passed the Top 2 in the seven-furlong event.

Last year, Extra Hope gave the impression of a horse who wanted two turns. He initially lost three times at shorter distances before breaking through at 1 1/16 miles, winning a maiden race at Santa Anita by 8 ¾ lengths.

While he faded in two-turn routes such as the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and a division of this year's Rebel Stakes (G2), there are excuses to consider.

At Los Alamitos, Extra Hope encountered trouble on the first turn when Savagery did not corner well, forcing Extra Hope wide.

As for the Rebel, you could argue his jockey paid too much attention to favored Improbable and made a premature move. Improbable didn't win, either, and Extra Hope faded to fourth.

Given the early move, he ran well enough to only lose by 3 ½ lengths.

Flavien Prat will guide Extra Hope in the Native Diver. In all likelihood, Prat will position Extra Hope two or three lengths off the expected pacesetter Leading Score. Assuming Leading Score folds, Extra Hope may get first run.

Even though TimeformUS Pace Projector puts Roadster in last, he could stay closer to the front than past performances indicated with blinkers staying on.

But even if Roadster is one or two lengths better than Extra Hope, Extra Hope could beat him with the right trip. Racing is not an exact science where the best horse always wins. On dirt, one or two lengths is not much of a difference in the end.

As for the rest, Leading Score is projected to lead uncontested. But his pedigree is a red flag as a half-brother to the short-winded Indian Blessing and Ax Man. If he slips away though on a slow pace, maybe he will last.

Midcourt is the most interesting horse not named Roadster or Extra Hope, as he enters off a three-race win streak. He closed well in the Comma to the Top Stakes at Santa Anita, winning by a neck over Two Thirty Five.

Given Midcourt is a lightly-raced 4-year-old gelding trained by John Shirreffs, there is room for further improvement. He is usable even in this short field of six. 

Two Thirty Five owns more speed than Midcourt and is not worse on paper. But as a 5-year-old gelding with 19 starts, he likely hit his peak form.

Zestful ran second in the Marathon Stakes (G2). Although there are good races at shorter distances in his record, he likely wants to remain going longer than Saturday's 1 1/8-mile trip.

Roadster is still the most likely winner here, but don't dismiss Extra Hope, as he retains the potential to develop into a nice router for trainer Richard Mandella, who's as patient as they come.

As long as Extra Hope's odds can stick to 3-1 or higher, he's the one to play, with Midcourt a third possibility if you wish to spread.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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