With the discontinuation of the Breeders' Cup Marathon, you could say the 11 horses entered in the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar Racetrack July 25 are all dressed up with no place to go.
The Cougar II, run at 1 ½ miles, must now stand on its own, with no long-range goal for horses that excel at longer distances.
With races at this distance, there are always a number of former claimers and starter allowance horses looking for graded status. While the Cougar II is no exception, there are several quality horses in the field, headed by Westrock Stables' Sky Kingdom, who finished a close second to the top-class Richard's Kid in last year's Cougar II following a third-place finish in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
The son of Empire Maker also was an impressive winner of the 1 ½-mile Tokyo City Stakes at Santa Anita Park last year, so he has run big going long on dirt and on synthetic. On the shelf for over 10 months, Sky Kingdom returned in the 1 1/16-mile American Flag Stakes at Los Alamitos on July 4 and scored a three-quarter-length victory over Handsome Mike. He has since had a pair of sharp five-furlong works at Del Mar for trainer Bob Baffert and looks to coming into the Cougar II in excellent shape.
Victor Espinoza, who rode the 5-year-old in the American Flag, will be back aboard and will break from post 8.
Another horse to keep an eye on is Old Time Hockey, who has run five times this year for trainer Tom Proctor, with a victory in the nine-furlong Turf Classic for Florida-breds at Tampa Bay Downs. The son of Smarty Jones is coming off an even fourth-place finish, beaten 2 ¾ lengths, in the American Flag.
Fans might remember Old Time Hockey from last year's Breeders' Cup Marathon, in which he made a threatening move on the far turn only to tire a bit in the stretch, finishing sixth, beaten 5 ¾ lengths.
Joe Talamo will ride for the first time and break from post 4, getting four pounds from Sky Kingdom.
Although Soi Phet is unproven at the distance and tired going 1 ¼ miles in the Whittingham, he is riding a two-race winning streak, scoring an impressive 3 ¾-length victory in the Cal-bred Bertrando Stakes at a mile at Los Alamitos last time out.
Perhaps the most intriguing horse in the field is Lideris, who is a grade I winner in Peru going 1 ¼ miles and a grade II winner going 1 ½ miles. The Kentucky-bred son of Mizzen Mast, trained by Peter Miller, made his U.S. debut in the Hollywood Gold Cup June 28, finishing a well-beaten fifth. He does drop four pounds and breaks from the rail under 120 pounds, which is 10 pounds less than he carried in his Grade 1 score in Peru.