DEL MAR, Calif. - This has been a summer of maturity for Well Monied, the favorite for Saturday's $350,000 Del Mar Oaks. Trainer Howard Zucker said that she has grown since her second in the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park on July 5.
"I think she's an inch taller than she was before," Zucker said.
Well Monied also recently lost a baby tooth, and as a result has found a renewed appetite.
"I wasn't 100 percent happy with her until about 10 or 12 days ago," he said on Wednesday. "She's been a little sharp. She needs to run back."
Well Monied will be after her first win in a Grade 1 in the Del Mar Oaks, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf. She heads a field of 10 3-year-old fillies that includes three stakes winners and five others that have been stakes-placed.
"There are a couple of horses in good form," Zucker said. "It's a genuine Grade 1."
Well Monied has blossomed on turf since February, winning 3 of 5 starts on the surface. She won the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Hollywood Park in May in her stakes debut, storming home from seventh in a field of nine to win by a comfortable 1 1/4 lengths.
She did not have the same luck in the American Oaks, which was run over 1 1/4 miles on turf and drew an international field. Starting from post 13 in a field of 14, Well Monied was wide for much of the race and closed from 13th to finish 3 1/4 lengths behind New York invader Gozzip Girl. She passed seven rivals in the final furlong.
"I hope she gets a chance on Saturday because she takes advantage of it when she does," Zucker said. "She doesn't need to be 13th turning for home."
Joel Rosario, the leading rider at Del Mar this summer, retains the mount on Well Monied. The filly is likely to race at the back of the field and move closer to the leaders at the end of the backstretch.
"I expect a big effort," Zucker said. "She needs a better trip. We have to prove what we think about her."
The Del Mar Oaks has drawn the first four finishers of the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on Aug. 1 - Starlarks, Strawberry Tart, Hameildaeme, and Internallyflawless.
The Oaks could be the first stakes win for two promising fillies - Hermione's Magic and Dreamalong. Hermione's Magic, a winner of 2 of 3 starts, was also entered in Friday's Sandy Blue Stakes. She was the impressive winner of an optional claimer on Aug. 5, her first start since arriving from England.
Dreamalong has won her last two starts, a maiden race and an allowance race at Hollywood Park. She needed seven races to beat maidens.
"She improves every time she runs," trainer Julio Canani said.
Starlarks is trained by Paddy Gallagher, who also starts Lexlenos, the third-place finisher in the American Oaks. Starlarks was added to the Del Mar Oaks field after working five furlongs on turf in 1:03.20, her only work since the San Clemente.
In the San Clemente, Starlarks, a closer, finished a nose in front of Strawberry Tart, who won the Flawlessly Stakes over a mile on turf at Hollywood Park on July 3. Strawberry Tart set the pace in two main track wins at Oaklawn Park earlier this year, but has rallied from the back of the field in recent starts on turf.
Hameildaeme, who made her stakes debut in the San Clemente, is another filly best from off the pace. She was reluctant to load before the San Clemente, but has been schooled in the starting gate twice in the last week, including a successful session on Thursday, trainer Jamie Lloyd said.
Lloyd said the gate issue is not a problem. Making sure that Hameildaeme gets a clean trip is more of a concern.
"If there is not much pace, she'll place herself," Lloyd said. "If she's relaxed, she'll make the same move."
Lloyd agreed with Zucker's opinion that the race features a strong field.
"I thought there was quite a few that can jump up and win it," Lloyd said.