That Rockemperor is the 8/5 favorite in Friday’s Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar makes sense if you look at the Rockemperor who won the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park.

Rockemperor-Hollywood Turf Cup
Rockemperor finished a non-threatening eighth by 6 1/2 lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Turf earlier this month. He’s the 8/5 morning-line favorite to win Friday’s Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at Del Mar. (Image: Breeders’ Cup)

If you look at the Rockemperor who finished a troubled eighth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Del Mar a month later, well — you’re looking hard at other options in the 1 ½-mile turf test.

The Hollywood Turf Cup headlines Friday’s nine-race card on the closing weekend of Del Mar’s Bing Crosby Meet. It’s one of seven stakes on Del Mar’s Turf Festival, which neatly explains Chad Brown’s considerable presence out of his natural New York habitat.

Brown trains Rockemperor, one of eight horses he’s shipped west for the Turf Festival. This Brown habit produced nine Turf Festival winners, including both winners in last year’s Hollywood Derby and Matriarch, Del Mar’s two Grade 1 turf events on closing weekend.

Brown plays for turf keeps here

Brown isn’t playing around with this Grade 2. Top Southern California rider Flavien Prat gets the assignment. Along with that, Brown shipped Rockemperor west earlier, stashing him at Santa Anita for the relatively short (1-½ hour) drive south to Del Mar.

Whether Rockemperor’s A-level form comes along for the ride remains to be seen. The 5-year-old Irish-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor banked earnings just shy of $1 million ($954,404). He’s hit the board in 15 of 21 career starts, but only four of those were victories.

Three of those victories were in non-stakes events: two allowances and his debut maiden-breaker in Europe in September 2018. The Hirsch represents Rockemperor’s lone stakes score, although he has two victories in seven races this year.

Rockemperor nearly passed up his Grade 1 win

Rockemperor’s inability to win proved so problematic to his connections that they planned on running him in an allowance race on the day of the Hirsch. But it didn’t fill, and Brown sent him out in a deep Hirsch field at 15.60/1, the second-longest odds in the field. He rewarded his pleasantly surprised connections with a two-length victory over stablemate Serve the King that paid $33.20.

In that race, Rockemperor defeated the likes of 1.85/1 favorite Gufo (who finished third), Channel Maker (fourth), Arklow (fifth), and 2.10/1 second-favorite Japan (sixth). Now, he gets an easier field on paper, but one full of possible upset candidates. Four of the seven horses in the field carry single-digit odds, with Friar’s Road (3/1), Acclimate, and Say the Word (both 4/1) Rockemperor’s primary threats.

From a horseplayer’s standpoint, this race is key. Del Mar’s Pick 6 Jackpot Wager brings a $460,113 carryover into Friday’s card. Should no single ticket solve the puzzle before Sunday, a mandatory payout of the entire Pick 6 pool awaits that day.