The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has now completed 7 weeks of their 8 week summer season with just three racing days left, i.e. this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They had five days of racing this past week and it still amazes me how full the fields are this far into the meet. Many of the races still have also eligible lists of 3 and 4 horses who can’t run without a scratch. Oh, what would Santa Anita do to have the luxury of this type of horse inventory? Del Mar management just makes the Ship and Win program really work.
The main track bias seems to be completely gone as the track played fair for the entire five days this past week. The turf course also is playing fair but I still give an edge to the late runners in turf routes. Overall, favorites are winning at 37.5% out of 256 races at this meet, well above the national average. The main track is at 39.9% while the turf course is at 34.5%. Jockey Antonio Fresu is the latest hot item in the jockey colony. He won twice on Monday and has narrowed the gap to just 3 wins, 34 to 31 vs. perennial leading rider Juan Hernandez. However, due to crop violations of hitting a horse once more than is allowed, Fresu was hit with a 32 day suspension starting this Friday and runs through Los Alamitos and the Santa Anita fall meet. HISA is totally out of control (read more about this in my article HSA Do We Really Need Them). Heading into the final week of the meet, trainer Bob Baffert has caught Phil D’Amato at 19 wins apiece and Doug O’Neill is just one back at 18. Baffert’s 19 wins are from just 54 starters while D’Amato has had 120 runners. O’Neill tops that number with 125.
They had a mandatory payout on the pick six this past Saturday and favorites dominated the pool winning four of the six races and paying out at just $341. The total pool reached $3.9 million for the 20 cent wager. The highest priced mutual in the six race sequence was just $10.20 despite many full fields of horses. The c/o into this Friday is $117,751 and they will have another mandatory payout on Sunday, closing day. I’ll be publishing my Turfdom Best Bets for all three race days this week.
Del Mar had a slew of stakes spread out over the three day weekend but the best five and the most important were on Saturday, where three of the stakes were a Win and You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup races up at Santa Anita in early November. We’ll start with the big one which is of course the Pacific Classic at 10 furlongs on the main track. This is the only race in California now that carries a $1 million purse. Two things stood out about the Classic this year. 1, they didn’t have any eastern invaders even with the size of that purse and 2, they had 3 sophomores in the lineup, which I don’t think they have had in quite some time.
There is no question, the older handicap division in California is weak right now, so promising three year olds certainly have a chance to be competitive in a race like this, and as it turns out, two three year olds fought it out to the wire in this year’s edition. Baffert’s Arabian Knight, making just his 4th career start, got the money in a dueling stretch drive with Geaux Rocket Ride, who was coming off a Grade 1 win in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. Both horses ran a tremendous race, but I really believe the difference was that Prat was on the winner while 57 year old Mike Smith was on the runner up.
That doesn’t mean Smith didn’t put up a strong ride, he did, it’s just that Flavien Prat is a world class rider now at the peak of his career and has the talent to nurse a horse along on the lead. And they didn’t lollygag along on the pace as the fractions were strong at 23.35 and 46.60 for the half, and remember this race is 10 furlongs. The winner paid $6.20 and he was a slight favorite over the runner up. Slow Down Andy ran well to be third, just a length back, but his ability to get 10 furlongs with these kinds of horses remains a big question. Plus Mario Gutierrez couldn’t carry Prat or Smith’s goggles for them. “Andy” went to the lead on his own at the top of the stretch, but Mario couldn’t keep him going in crunch time and even had trouble switching sticks from hand to hand at a critical point in the race. Had J.J., Rispoli, or Fresu been up on “Andy” it might have been a different outcome in the Classic. But O’Neill has too much class to criticize his rider and too much sense to criticize his owner.
I thought Stilleto Boy had a shot in this race but he missed the start under Desormeaux and never did recover. The break is the most important part of any race and if you don’t break with the field, you have no chance of winning, unless your name is Flightline. Defunded is going the wrong way and needs a good, long break away from the races. The rest really had no chance in the race including Skinner, who just isn’t this caliber of race horse. There is a strong chance that both Arabian Knight and Geaux Rocket Ride will meet again in the B/C Classic on November 4th, but this time there will be an entourage of eastern invaders to join the party.
The final race on the program Saturday was the 11 furlong Del Mar Handicap for older horses on the grass and once again, the favorite got the money. Gold Phoenix, who was 14 lengths back at one point in the race, got a beautifully timed ride by J.J. to get up very late and win going away by a length and a quarter at the wire. He paid an even $7.00 to win over the very sharp Nineeleventurbo who had won four in a row. “Phoenix” secured a fees paid berth in the B/C Turf race on Nov. 4th. The winner was the defending champ in this race for trainer Phil D’Amato who was winning his 2nd stakes on the day. But he will be in a whole new ball game when he has to face the “Euros” on the turf up at Arcadia. Once again, the rider made a big difference in the outcome of this race.
The third Win and You’re In race for the Cup was the 5/8 turf sprint, the Green Flash Handicap, which looked extremely wide open on paper. There were 12 in this field with at least 7 of them having a realistic shot at winning, but in the end, the public got it right once again as Motorious, off since May 6, came back running under Giovanni Franco and won the race by two lengths and paid $7.20. Beer Can Man, who got through on the fence in this large field on a tight turf course looked like the winner at the 1/8 pole, but he was on the softest part of the course and didn’t have the fire power the winner had way out in the middle of the course, where it was much firmer. Cherubic Factor nosed out our 7/1 Best Bet shot Beer Can Man for second. Umberto Rispoli was signed on to ride the winner, but was forced off his mounts for the entire weekend after taking a nasty spill on Thursday. He should be ready to go this weekend. Motorious will go in the B/C Turf Sprint on November 4th.
The late running Du Jour won the Del Mar Mile with another strong ride by Prat and paid $10.20 over a field of 10 winning off by two. It was his fifth win from 15 starts and the winning trainer was Bob Baffert, who doesn’t win many stakes on the turf. Of course his wife is part owner of Du Jour, so the pressure was on. Exaulted , who was gunning for five in a row, ran a good 2nd after coming off a 4 month break for the red hot Peter Eurton stable. The mile was run in 1:33.82 over a firm course and neither horse can touch the Euros in the B/C Mile.
The Grade 3 Torrey Pines was the other stakes on the Saturday menu and there were two late scratches in this race that made a huge difference in the outcome. Baffert scratched the favorite late, Faiza, because he said he didn’t like the post position. That seemed like a pretty lame excuse as she was on the outside in this mile race, but there were only 9 in the race, and with J.J. up, she still would have had a good trip no doubt. As it was, Ceiling Crusher was made the 2/1 favorite, who was also drawn on the outside. She was hustled to the lead by expert gate rider Edwin Maldonado and never looked back in this mile race for sophomore fillies. She ran the 1st quarter in an extremely quick 22.15 and looked like toast at the top of the lane, but she found another gear and went on to an easy 3.5 length win over Flying Connection. It was another three back to Justique. The water will get deeper now for the winner as this Cal bred will probably have to take on Adare Manor in the Grade 2 Zenyatta stakes up at Arcadia on October 1st. However, history is on her side, as the last 3 winners of the Torrey Pines stakes all went in the Zenyatta stakes in their next start and all three won that race.
On Sunday they ran the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby for sophomores and the ungraded Shared Belief on the main track was also restricted for 3 year olds. In the Grade 2 Derby, Concluded had a pace advantage and was sent postward as the even money choice in a field of 9. He didn’t disappoint the crowd as he sat in 2nd early on, took the lead on the far turn, but then was all out to hold off Maltese Falcon at the wire. The margin was just a head and the La Jolla winner was closing fast but the wire came up too soon for Falcon and J.J. Hernandez. Phil D’Amato trained the winner and just a length back of Falcon was Almendares, also trained by D’Amato. Hector Berrios was aboard the winner who paid $4.20. It was his 3rd stakes winner on the weekend for D’Amato, and of course, all three came on the grass.
As we said about the top two trainers on the circuit, D’Amato wins the grass races and Baffert wins the dirt ones. Earlier on the race card in the Shared Belief stakes there was a dead heat for the win and wouldn’t you know it, Baffert trained both horses. Mr Fisk came from last to catch the pace setter Tahoe Sunrise. Smart Mo was a distant third on this mile encounter on the main.
They ran two stakes on Monday and the veteran rider Mike Smith won them both, one aboard a heavy favorite and the other with the 2nd choice in the wagering. Crazy Hot was the 4to 5 choice in the Generous Portion stakes, a Cal bred event at ¾ on the main, even though she drew the dreaded rail post. And Smith did a good job of riding her in this race for juvenile fillies, as she ducked out at the start and started heading for the gap, but he got her straightened out and still got the lead at the half mile pole over six others. Our Best Bet on the day, Prancingthruparis, off at 7/1, had dead aim on the favorite in the lane, but “Crazy” found another gear at the 1/16 pole and “Paris” couldn’t get by, winning by a length at the wire. It was 7 clear to the third place finisher, Fly a Fantasy, who was trained by Jeff Bonde, who also saddled the winner. The winner paid $3.80 and the time was quite slow in 1:11.93 for the six furlongs.
The final stakes of the weekend was the Tranquility Lake for older fillies and mares on the main track at a flat mile. Baffert’s Fun to Dream was the heavy 3 to 10 favorite and only five went to the post due to a late scratch. But she threw in a clunker for the 2nd straight race and could only muster third. Mandella’s four year old filly, Micro Shares, was an easy winner by 3 lengths getting her third consecutive victory and paid $8.20 on the front end. Neither one of the stakes were graded on Monday.
STAKES ACTION CLOSING WEEK: Six stakes are on the docket for closing weekend and five of the six are for two year olds. It all starts Friday with the I’m Smokin stakes for Cal bred juveniles at ¾ on the main. 7 will go to the post in the I’m Smokin and the field is headed up by Dr. No No, Lord Prancealot, and Last Call London. Saturday has 3 stakes topped by the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante for juvenile fillies at 7/8 on the main. 10 are probable for this race headed up by the talented Tamara, Pushiness, Dreamfyre, and Benedetta. Also on the docket Saturday is the Juvenile Fillies Turf at one mile where there were 19 nominees. Flattery, Angiolleta, Loterie, and Sushi Sticks are principle candidates. The only race not for juveniles is the Grade 2 John C. Mabee stakes for older fillies and mares. They have 11 nominations for this race and the field is headed up by Macadamia and Closing Remarks at 9 furlongs on the turf. The meet closes out with the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity at 7/8 on the main Sunday with the undefeated Prince of Monaco for trainer Bob Baffert. The Grade 3 Juvenile Turf is also on the docket at a mile with 20 nominees. Among them are Endlessly, Boltage, Blue Eyed George, and Poor Dompte.
By Rod Young (Turfdom)