The main course happens Sunday, when Del Mar will offer three graded stakes, including the signature $1 million Pacific Classic, but Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Del Mar H. serves as a tantalizing appetizer with a contentious field of 13 entered for the 1 ⅜-mile affair on turf.
Only 12 will be allowed to run over the Jimmy Durante course and pair of horses -- Irish Surf and also-eligible Ice Cream Truck -- have been cross-entered to the Pacific Classic a day later.
DEL MAR HANDICAP DRAW
Fire With Fire is a top draw in his first outing since capturing the Charles Whittingham Memorial on May 24. Trained by Hall of Famer Neil Drysdale, the gelding posted another Grade 2 tally earlier this season, the San Luis Rey in late March, and his only setback from four starts this year was a head second in the Last Tycoon two starts back.
A son of Dynaformer, Fire With Fire has come on at age six and the 11-furlong distance is right in his wheelhouse. Regular rider Tyler Baze will be up on the 123-pound highweight.
Irish Surf merits respect if his connections opt for the Del Mar H. over the Pacific Classic. A two-time winner on turf, the four-year-old Giant's Causeway colt registered a career-best performance when switching back to Polytrack last time, running away on the front end to an 8 ¼-length score in the 1 ½-mile Cougar II. The Dan Hendricks charge registered a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating for his first stakes win and is scheduled to receive a rider switch to Victor Espinoza.
Grade 1 winner Unbridled Command is a logical contender in his third start of the season. Winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in late 2012, the five-year-old horse made only one start stateside last year, finishing third behind Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom in the Gulfstream Park H. He's recorded two unplaced finishes for new trainer Peter Miller but exits a decent fifth in the Grade 1 Eddie Read, and fitness should no longer be a concern for the honest gray horse, who capped a five-race win streak in the aforementioned Hollywood Derby.
Elvis Trujillo, who also rode Irish Surf last time, sticks with Unbridled Command and the New York-bred adds first-time blinkers Saturday.
Big John B will make his stakes bow in fine form for Phil D'Amato, reeling off a pair of sharp wins, including a 7 ¼-length score over allowance/optional claiming foes at Del Mar on July 30. The five-year-old Hard Spun gelding will retain the services of Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
Grade 2 winner Bright Thought will make his first start for D'Amato. Third when making his debut over Del Mar's turf in the July 23 Wickerr, the five-year-old ridgling fits well at this level and will keep Rafael Bejarano in the saddle.
Drysdale is also responsible for the filly Topic, who exits a good second in the Grade 3 Robert G. Dick Memorial at Delaware Park. The four-year-old daughter of Discreet Cat recorded her lone stakes victory over the Del Mar turf last year, romping by a 3 ¼-length margin over listed competition. Fernardo Perez picks up the mount.
Other contenders include Last Tycoon winner Quick Casablanca; multiple Grade 2-placed Si Sage; and stakes victor Cogito.