C R K Stable’s Midcourt has been entered to defend his title in the $100,000 Native Diver Stakes (G3) Nov. 21 at Del Mar, and after battling against Improbable  and Maximum Security  in his past four starts, he stars as the headliner in the 1 1/8-mile event with the Bob Baffert-trained heavy hitters he’s finished behind now retired to the breeding shed. 

Owner Lee Searing of C R K said trainer John Shirreffs is leaning toward running Midcourt this weekend and reported that the 5-year-old Midnight Lute  gelding is doing “better than he’s done in a long time.”

Midcourt finished third behind Improbable and Maximum Security in the Sept. 26 Awesome Again Stakes (G1), in which he was off a bit slow, and third behind Maximum Security in the Aug. 22 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes (G1). He turned in an impressive performance in the July 25 San Diego Handicap (G2) in which he dueled with Maximum Security to the wire and just missed by a nose.

Improbable and Maximum Security went on to finish second and fifth, respectively, in the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

In his only start off the board this season, Midcourt was fifth in the June 6 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1), won by Improbable, after hopping at the start and being eased late. He opened the year with a victory in the Feb. 1 San Pasqual Stakes (G2) and was third, beaten less than a length, in the March 7 Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

“We were within a nose of Maximum Security in those races and we didn’t  have the best either time of the trip, so it wasn’t Maximum Security (that kept us home from the Breeders’ Cup). I don’t think any horse really caused us a reason not to run. With Breeders’ Cup, I think we just thought it’s a tough race, there’s five or six horses, and he hadn’t been breaking well,” Searing said. “We just didn’t want to go back there and run fifth or worse. John’s got a good plan mapped out for him next year, which might include the Pegasus World Cup (G1).”

Jockey Victor Espinoza will ride Midcourt for the 11th consecutive time Saturday. They will break from post 4.

Hronis Racing’s Combatant, back in the Native Diver, took the Santa Anita Handicap. That breakthrough effort was only his second start since he was purchased as a racing prospect for $220,000 at the 2019 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale and moved to trainer John Sadler. The 5-year-old Scat Daddy ridgling was third in the San Pasqual before turning the tables on Midcourt in the Big ‘Cap.

Combatant finished off the board in his next three outings, including the San Diego Handicap, but improved to run third at 1 1/2 miles in the Sept. 27 Tokyo City Cup Stakes (G3). He will break from the rail under Umberto Rispoli.

Also entered is grade 2-placed sophomore filly Stellar Sound, a seven-length winner at the allowance level Oct. 2; Brazilian group 1 winner Royal Ship; and Extra Hope, who won his second start off the layoff Sept. 26 and was second in the Native Diver a year ago.

Entries: Native Diver S. (G3)

Del Mar, Saturday, November 21, 2020, Race 2

  • Grade III
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $100,000
  • 3 yo’s & up
  • 1:00 PM (local)

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