Del Mar Favorites, Meet Leaders, Horses To Watch, Fatalities, and Other Musings

Week six is in the books of the eight week summer season at this seaside track with the best racing of the meet still to come. Del Mar will race five days this week with the addition of a Labor Day card on Monday and Saturday is Pacific Classic day with five graded stakes and some outstanding equine athletes performing for us all.

Field size continues to remain strong and favorites are starting to win most of the races as overall they are at 37.7% for the meet. The main track is awfully high at 40% while the turf course is at 34.8% through six weeks of racing. We found the main track to play fair in all four days of racing this past week as well as the turf course.

Jockey Umberto Rispoli took a week off from Del Mar and journeyed to Japan for a week of racing this past week. That moved leader Juan Hernandez even further in front for the riding title, but another Italian rider is putting some heat on him lately. Newcomer Antonio Fresu won three on Friday, two more on Saturday, and then got the hat trick again on Sunday and now has 23 wins for the meet, just five behind J.J. Missing four days of riding here cost Rispoli, who now sits in third with 20 wins.

For the 1st time all meet, there is a new trainer on top of the standings that’s not named Baffert or D’Amato. And that fella is Doug O’Neill, who won three on Saturday and one more on Sunday to lead D’Amato by one at 16 to 15. Baffert is third with 14. Of course, nobody has the turf horses that D’Amato has, and with all of the turf stakes coming up this week, he’s pretty much a slam dunk to be back on top as I write this column next week. Baffert has the best win percentage of all the conditioners at 32%, closely followed by Peter Eurton at 29%. Racing returns this Thursday with an 8 race card and a pick six Rainbow pool of $324,789. We will have four days of selections this week, Friday through Monday.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

STAKES RECAP: They ran two graded stakes over the weekend here as Del Mar prepares for their biggest week of the meet next weekend with a total of 9 stakes spread out over three days. On Saturday, they had 10 line up for the 7 furlong Pat O’Brien stakes on the main track, named for one of the co-founders of this race track, way back in 1937. This was a Win and You’re In race for the B/C Dirt Mile, which is somewhat strange as most of these contestants are sprinters, not milers.  Nonetheless the wagering public had a difficult time finding a favorite and ended up settling on Anarchist at 5/2. And as often happens, they had it right once again, as he settled in fifth early off of the blazing speed of Brickyard Ride, who ran the 1st quarter in 21.49. But he is just a shell of his former self and he was “toast” at the ¼ pole, as the contenders rallied in from the outside lanes. Anarchist was the furthest out, got the first jump on the late runners, and actually won quite easily by a length and a half over   Bye Bye Bobby and CZ Rocket. The time was quite slow at 1:23.21 even with the quick early fractions. The winner is trained by Doug O’Neill and was ridden by Ramon Vasquez.

O’Neill won three on the day and the barn has been red hot the last two weeks. Sir Atticus finished fourth and received a ton of late money going off at 3/1. Spirit of Makena was fifth but ran rather disappointingly as the co 5/2 favorite. Going into the race, Anarchist had finished 2nd 7 times out of 12 career starts with just two wins. He has been right there with the top sprinters in the country but has been a bit snake bit right at the wire. But he got the job done today and pushed his earnings up to $460,508.

On Sunday, sprinters were once again in the limelight with the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo at six and a half on the main track for older fillies and mares. Eda was made the 4 to 5 favorite in a field of 8 as she was seeking her 7th consecutive victory. She got the perfect ride from the perfect post for Baffert and J.J. and won quite easily to pay $3.60 by a length and a half over the fast closing Kirstenbosch, who was a Turfdom Best Bet on the day at 5/1. But this race was all about the favorite as J.J. let her settle in 2nd down the back side, just off the leader, Princess Adeleigh. When he asked her for run just past the ¼ pole, the race was over in an instant, and everyone else was running for second. She stopped the timer in 1:16.49 over a track playing on the sluggish side for her 7th consecutive victory, most of them stakes races. It was Baffert’s 160th stakes win at this race track and he is the runaway leader in that category. John Sadler is a distant second with 85 victories. Eda has now banked $667,600 in her scintillating career.

THIS WEEKS STAKES ACTION: This Saturday they will have five graded stakes and the “signature” race of the meet will be run for the 33rd time, the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at a mile and a quarter on the main. And although it looks like they will have 11 runners for this race, surprisingly, there are no east coast invaders and the purse is $1 million. So for whatever reason, the “big boys” are staying put this week and the locals have a shot at $600K 1st place money.

Of the older horses expected to run, Baffert’s Defunded appears to head up the list and recently won the Hollywood Gold Cup at this very distance up at Arcadia. Ed Moger has Stilleto Boy, who also won at this distance earlier in the year winning the Big Cap at Santa Anita Park.  Slow Down Andy is also a contender coming off a good 2nd in the San Diego Handicap on this race track. But this year the winner may very well come from a strong group of sophomores headed up by Geaux Rocket Ride for trainer Richard Mandella, who recently won the $1 million Haskell stakes at Monmouth Park. He beat a good field in the Haskell and is coming into the race in tip top shape. Arabian Knight, who was third in the Haskell, is also in the lineup, and you can never discount a Baffert runner in a big race. Skinner will have his 1st start against older but to do this date, he only has a maiden win to his credit.

Some of the outsiders are Tripoli, who won this race in 2021 for John Sadler, Senor Buscador, a late runner who needs plenty of pace help, which he got in winning the San Diego stakes recently, Piroli, Order and Law, and maybe Katonah, who has had some foot issues recently, but worked ¾ on Sunday in fine fashion and should make the lineup. The draw is this Tuesday and anywhere near the middle or even the outside is a good place to be.

The rest of the card Saturday will be drawn on Wednesday and the other two Grade 2’s are the Del Mar Handicap at 11 furlongs on the grass with 15 nominations and the Del Mar Mile on the turf with 18 nominations. Phil D’Amato has one third of the nominees for the marathon led by Gold Phoenix who is the defending champ. Sadler, Mandella, and Mike McCarthy have two each. D’Amato has 7 of the 18 nominees for the Mile headed up by Hong Kong Harry and Balnikov, but the one they all have to be is Exaulted, who is on quite a roll for Peter Eurton.

The two Grade 3’s Saturday are the Torrey Pines for 3 year old fillies at a mile on the main and the Green Flash at 5/8 on the turf. The once defeated Faiza heads up the field in the Torrey Pines and is 5 for 6 while the quick Ceiling Crusher, who flopped in her last, looms a solid contender along with Justique.  

There are 22 nominees for the Green Flash led by Lane Way and Turn On the Jets.  Then on Sunday there are 16 nominees for the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby led by Maltese Falcon and the fast improving Panic Alarm. D’Amato has two nominees from the Oceanside stakes on opening day in Conclude and Classical Cat. 12 horses are nominated for the Shared Belief, an ungraded stakes at a mile on the main.

Reincarnate, who ran in the Kentucky Derby for Baffert, heads up this race which is for sophomores only. On Monday, which is Labor Day, there are two ungraded stakes which are both on the main track. The Tranquility Lake stakes had 20 nominees headed up by Desert Dawn, Elm Drive, and Fun to Dream. This race is for fillies and mares at a flat mile 3 and up. The Generous Portion is for Cal breds, at six furlongs on the main for juveniles fillies. Pushiness will be a heavy choice in the wagering should she go.

HORSES TO WATCH LIST: As most of you know, we put out a weekly list of 4-6 horses which we think are improving and will win one of their next two starts. Some do and some don’t. Many of them are placed in spots that are just too tough and sometimes, we just make mistakes on them. Many times they do win and the price is just too low to bet straight up, but are much better used as “singles” in vertical or horizontal exotic wagers. But every once in awhile there is one that can really make a difference in your wagering day if you have the faith to back them.

Such was the case two weeks ago at Del Mar when a horse named Reiquist made our listing from a May 29 race in which he broke his maiden by 7 at 17/1 in just a six horse field. However when he came back against allowance foes a few weeks later, he never raised a gallop and was fairly well bet with no apparent excuses. We recommend playing those horses in their next two starts after making the list, so if you can forgive Requist’s last race, you were rewarded to the tune of a $56.60 mutuel on August 13. But that’s not the best part of this story.

August 13 was a mandatory payout day on the pick six and this race fell right in the middle of that sequence. The other five winners on that day were fairly easy to find, 3 favorites, a second choice favorite and a $14.00 horse in a wide open scramble race. Reiquist was the tough one to find. The pick six came back at $3215 for the 20 cent wager. A follower of our Horses to Watch list could have easily won that pick six wager without making a huge investment. It’s all 20/20 hindsight, but it does happen.

FATALITIES: Believe me, anybody that writes about this sport hates to talk about equine deaths, and that includes me. But it is a big part of the game and unfortunately is moving many a fan away from the sport. It’s not so much the number of deaths, it’s when and where they happen that draws the headlines. Deaths on the race track are actually down 35% the last three years across the country.

Most of us involved in the game can remember quite clearly what happened at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May when that track hosted the Kentucky Derby. Well, it was déjà-voo all over again this past Saturday when Saratoga had their biggest day of the summer, and two horses had to be euthanized in stakes races going down right in the stretch when leading the races. The fans at the track were stunned and it grew eerily silent at a time when it should have been very noisy.  

Saratoga has had a tough meet this summer with an unusual amount of rain. And that is probably part of the problem as most of the fatalities have come on the turf course, even though they have moved 57 races from off the turf to the main track. They almost cancelled racing Sunday due to the deaths on Saturday, but everybody involved in racing decided that the track surfaces were safe including the riders.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, has the answers to racing fatalities. And everybody involved is doing everything in their power to provide for the safest environment for horse and rider. Saratoga now has 12 deaths for the current meet, 8 in races, and 4 in morning training hours. And that number fits about where they have been the last three years. But when it happens in deep stretch in major stakes races right in front of the grandstands, it’s a thought that does not leave your mind for quite some time. It reminds me of the great match race between Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure or when Go For Wand broke down in a major race. One doesn’t forget those incidents.

Even Del Mar, which has been the safest race track in America the last three years, has not been able to escape this tragedy. Between racing and morning workouts, they have had five fatalities right here and that is way too many for them. Pastor T, a Baffert runner, went down on Saturday morning at the end of a five furlong drill and had to be euthanized. This runner won his lone start by four lengths and was going to be a major player in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 10.

Of all the problems that racing has, and they have plenty of them, this is the one that stands out, and the animal activist groups are out in force to shut down our sport. It has never been more serious as everything comes to the forefront with social media.

So where do we go from here? When the greatest minds in the business have no answers, I certainly do not. The tracks will continue to gather data, do the necropsy evaluations, and continue on with the numerous vet checks, but I don’t think anything will change. The soundest horses on the back stretch are going to take “bad steps” now and then, and when they do, it’s going to happen. As each month and year go by, race tracks will close, just like Golden Gate Fields is doing in Northern California, and there won’t be any track available to take its place. Arlington Park, Hollywood Park, Bay Meadows, Suffolk Downs, and so many others just become distant memories.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)