Trying for his third graded-stakes victory since arriving in the United States late last year, River Bay is the 7-5 favorite against six opponents today in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap.
Trained by Bobby Frankel, who last won the Grade II when Luazur upset Kotashaan in 1993, River Bay, a 5-year-old Irish River horse, will be making his first start since winning the Sunset Handicap on July 19 at Hollywood Park.
It will also be his first race on this turf course, making him one of only two in the field who haven't run on the layout. The other is Crystal Hearted, an English-bred who will be making his debut in this country.
Alex Solis will again ride River Bay, who is picking up two pounds off his Sunset win and will carry 123 in the 1 3/8-mile race.
Bonapartiste, who hasn't been worse than second in his last seven races, is the 3-1 second choice. Trained by Ron McAnally and ridden by Chris McCarron, Bonapartiste, a 4-year-old roan, was second in the Eddie Read Handicap early last month, a length behind Subordination, who led all the way.
Completing the field, from the inside out, are Cloud Forest, who is also trained by Frankel; Amerique; Dowty, who was second by a nose in this race last year; and Military.
Barry Abrams will be a busy man the final days of Del Mar's 59th season.
Looking to win his first title since he began training thoroughbreds on his own in 1993, Abrams, 44, has one horse running today, five on Sunday and three on Monday. Although entries for the final Del Mar card won't be taken until Sunday, look for him to be active that day as well.
Before Friday's racing, Abrams held a 14-13 lead over defending champion Bob Baffert. Bob Hess Jr., who won titles here in 1991 and '92, was next with 11 victories.
Abrams, running mostly claiming horses, had seven winners at Del Mar last year and would be pleased to win the title.
"It would be an accomplishment because people say the best racing in America is here," he said. "But I feel like I'm going to have a chance to win a lot of training titles in the future. The future is bright.
"I started with one horse five years ago and have been able to get more horses every year. I've got 32 now, and I'd like to have as many as 40. I'm getting better horses, and I'm trying to follow in the footsteps of my idol, Bobby Frankel. He [was successful] with all claimers and progressed from there."
Corey Nakatani, on his way to his second Del Mar riding title, will leave for New York after the meeting closes Wednesday to ride the fall season at Belmont Park, which begins Friday.
This will be the first time Nakatani has ridden regularly in the East and means he will skip the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita, which begins Sept. 30.
Jockey Guillermo Gutierrez has been suspended for one year by the Los Alamitos stewards for riding with an electrical prodding device in a race at Los Alamitos on Aug. 16.
Gutierrez, who ranked fifth in the jockey standings with 36 victories at the time of the incident, was found with the device, called a "battery" around race tracks, after riding Secret Kitty to third place in a $2,500 claiming race. The suspension ends next Aug. 28.
Horse Racing Notes
Benchmark, who recorded his biggest wins in the San Bernardino, Del Mar Breeders' Cup and Goodwood handicaps, has been retired, according to trainer David Hofmans. Owned by Marty and Pam Wygod, the 7-year-old son of Alydar finished a distant third in the San Diego Handicap on July 25 in his final start and finished his career with seven wins and $636,707 in 16 races. . . . Del Mar is offering a $2.5-million guaranteed pick six pool Monday when the main event is the $300,000 Del Mar Derby.