The 81st running of the Grade 2, $750,000 Delaware Handicap drew nine fillies and mares vying for the winner's share of the hefty $750,000 purse.
The key to separating the win contenders from the rest appears to be a potentially contested early pace scenario in which need-the-lead types Proper Discretion, Nikki My Darling and Farrell are forced to go faster than average when vying for the early lead. Of the trio, Farrell is the only previous graded stakes winner, having won the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks in the spring of 2017. Although that win was earned when coming from off the pace in third in the early stages, this year Farrell has shown only a desire to lead early, as when second in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Stakes after leading from the start last month.
Elate has graded stakes credentials that are good enough for this group, having taken both the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes and Beldame Invitational Stakes last summer and fall. However, having been away from the races for more than eight months, it's hard to imagine Elate being in the physical form necessary to win this race. Teresa Z just won the Obeah Stakes over the track and last summer won the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks so may be a contender. Fuhriously Kissed earned her best stakes placing when third in the Apple Blossom in April but enters the race off a very poor seventh place effort in the Fleur de Lis. Unbridled Mo sports top credentials as she won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Stakes in April and she could benefit from a contested battle on the front end, as could Mopotism, who won the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes this past January. Sneaky Betty hopes to improve off her third place finish in the Obeah behind Teresa Z and rounds out the group.
Unbridled Mo has won seven of 11 career races with one of her best efforts coming this year in April when she rallied from fourth, seven lengths back, to win the Apple Blossom Stakes, defeating heavy favorite Unique Bella in the process. That effort earned Unbridled Mo the second best Equibase Speed Figure of her career, 103. That effort came in her second start back following a 10-month layoff and she is on a similar pattern for a top effort in the Delaware Handicap as she returned from a layoff last month to finish third in the Ogden Phipps Stakes with a 98 figure. As a daughter of Uncle Mo and out of a mare by Unbridled, Unbridled Mo should have no issue running this 10-furlong trip for the first time, particularly as she should be a strong beneficiary of the contested early pace scenario as Proper Discretion, Farrell and possibly also Nikki My Darling all try to wrest the early advantage from each other.
Teresa Z is a potentially live longshot of note as she's a lightly raced four year old coming off the best effort of her career and with prospect for even better in this situation. Last summer, Teresa Z earned a then career-best Equibase Speed Figure of 94 when winning the Monmouth Oaks then took six months off following an eighth place effort in the Cotillion Stakes. She improved nicely last month in her third start off the layoff when winning the Obeah Stakes over the track with a new career-best 96 figure. Jockey Centeno rides her once again after not having been aboard in over a year and the experience over the track may help Teresa Z to run even better, particularly as she can save ground from the rail as the pacesetters battle it out in front of her. Another factor in her favor is the fact that her Monmouth Oaks win was her second in a row after losing four straight and she enters this year's Delaware Handicap off a win following three straight losses.
Mopotism fits the race on class, having won the La Canada Stakes this past winter in California with the best figure (114) earned by any Delaware Handicap entrant this year. Since then, she has lost four straight races but one was in her first and only turf try and in the other three races Mopotism closed too late after the winners had drawn off, two of them by nearly nine lengths. If jockey Gutierrez can keep Mopotism reasonable close to the pacesetters in this race as he was able to do in the La Canada when she was just one length back after a half-mile had been run, she has a nice chance to earn her second graded stakes win of the year.
For exotic bets like the exacta, honorable mention goes to Sneaky Betty, whose best efforts have earned her 93 figures. As a daughter of Mineshaft, Sneaky Betty is one of few bred to handle this distance with ease and trainer Claudio Gonzalez has a very strong record of 11 for 37 in dirt route stakes races over the past five years which helps establish that he knows where to place his horses. Considering Sneaky Betty has a closing style, and with some of the others likely to be tired near the end after going too fast in the early stages, she could get into the exacta at high odds.
I must also mention Elate, who won back-to-back grade 1 stakes races last summer including the Alabama Stakes at this mile and one-quarter distance. She has done little wrong in her career with four wins in 10 races, and the 115 figure earned winning the Beldame Stakes last fall could make her tough to beat in the Delaware Handicap if repeated. However, trainer Mott has not won many stakes races around two-turns over the years with horses coming back from six months or more on the sidelines and although I believe Elate could run well enough to be second or third she may have a hard time winning versus others who have run more recently.
Likewise, Farrell fits at the level following runner-up efforts in the La Troienne Stakes and in the Fleur de Lis Stakes, the latter earning her a 108 figure. However, having led from the start in her last four races and unable to hold the lead in the last eighth of a mile in the last two, with the likely pace pressure on her in the early stages from Proper Discretion at the very least, Farrell may be confined to a minor award.
The rest of the Delaware Handicap field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Fuhriously Kissed (102), Nikki My Darling (105) and Proper Discretion (101).
For second on exacta tickets:
Sneaky Betty, Elate, Farell
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