Del Mar News and Notes for July 14, 2020

• In the late sixties, one of the top folksy/rock duos was Simon and Garfunkel, and their biggest hit song in that era was called the “Sounds of Silence” and that was what it was like when Del Mar opened up for their 81st season this past Friday. No, I wasn’t there, but Jay Privman of the Racing Form was, and said in his article how scary it was with no spectators at the track. No big roar from the crowd when the gates opened at the start of race one, and no Trevor Denman in the booth to call the race. But at least we have racing, and Bing Crosby was still there to sing his jingle when the horses came on the track for race one. And the overall handle was up 3.5 % vs. last year when they had 24,000 plus on hand at the track. So some people still have money and most people still love Del Mar, even if we have to watch it on our computers, phones, or the boob tube. The new announcer is Larry Collmus and so far, he is just OK. He’s no Michael Wrona, Trevor Denman, or even Frank Mirahmadi, but he’s still pretty good and will take some getting used to coming off the bench. Overall, the main track played fair for opening week, with the outside lanes being a tad better than the inside. The turf course also played fair and the rails were out 12 feet all three days. In just the second day of wagering, the pick six was hit by a single ticket winner in Oregon and paid $288,005 on a $192 ticket, not too shabby. Racing resumes on Friday with a first post of 2 PM and no c/o in the pick six as that wager was hit again on Sunday.

• They ran three stakes the first three days of the meet, one each day, and none of them were graded, but all three were at a flat mile on the lawn. Hit the Road won the Oceanside on opening day and did it quite easily, coming from well back under Rispoli, who won five races the first two days, and then added two more on Sunday, as he is 7 for 17 to start the meet. The winner made our Horses to Watch list and is as good as any soph runner on the west coast in turf routes. Unless trainer Dan Blacker gets Derby thoughts, he should resurface in either the La Jolla Handicap in four weeks or the Del Mar Derby at the end of the meet. Hit the Road went off as the 8/5 wagering choice, won by two over longshots Kandrel and Ajourneytofreedom in 1:35.09. On Saturday, Bob and Jackie sprung the upset in the Wickerr stakes by laying just off the fast fractions of Kiwi’s Dream (21.76 – 45.08) and just getting up late at $18.40. He tallied by a neck and held off the late run of Murad Khan and Big Score as well on a course playing very fast. The final time was 1:33.35 for the mile. The horse to take out of this race was the runner up, Kiwi’s Dream, who set the blistering pace and was still in the photo at the wire. He’s a Golden Gate shipper for Victor Trujillo and he may very well run here again before the end of the meet. But take nothing away from the winner, as he was coming off of 8 months down time for trainer Richie Baltas, who clicks at a whopping 35% winners off a layoff of six months or more. That percentage just went up a few more points after Saturday. The owner of Bob and Jackie is Ahmed Zayat, owner of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah a few years back. Then on Sunday they ran the Osunitas stakes for older fillies and mares. Cordiality proved one could go wire to wire on this course with red hot rider Umberto Rispoli taking the veteran coast to coast at 8/1. He was the lone speed in the race but looked to be up against it from a class standpoint and the race profile. Nonetheless, speed is always dangerous when left alone with sheepish fractions. Super Patriot ran very well as the choice and closed from last to get second, but the winner was gone.

• This week they have four stakes over the weekend with the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap on Saturday the best of the bunch, with headliner Maximum Security and new trainer Bob Baffert. This is a prep for the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in August and the defending champ of that race, Higher Power, will also be in the lineup to square off against “Security”, who just may be the best dirt horse in training in this country right now. He has won four Grade 1’s overall since his DQ from the Kentucky Derby, and even that was highly questionable in a race with 20 runners. His bank account is over $11 million and he has never been worse than second in 10 career starts, except for the DQ, a race in which he won. Cedillo will have the mount on the favorite, who is a late replacement for Luis Saez, who recently tested positive for the Coronavirus. Other contenders in the race will be Ax Man, Improbable, Combatant, Dark Vader, Midcourt, and Restrainedvengence. Also on Saturday will be the Daisycutter stakes for older fillies and mares at five furlongs on the turf. This will have a full field headed up by the ultra quick Stealthediamonds, Lighthouse, and She’s So Special for Peter Miller. On Sunday will be the Grade 2 Eddie Read Handicap for older runners and defending champ Bowie’s Hero will be back to defend his title. Sharp Samurai will also run in the Eddie Read, even though trainer Mark Glatt wants to try him on the main track and entered him in the San Diego on Saturday. However, that spot just came up too tough for the veteran grass runner. Also on Sunday will be the Smiling Tiger stakes for sophomores going ¾ on the main track.

• Trainer Bob Baffert sends his once beaten colt Authentic to Monmouth Park for this Saturday’s Haskell Stakes at 9 furlongs on the main track. He will face the Belmont stakes runner up Dr. Post along with probably 7 others. Baffert has won the Haskell 8 different times with such stand out runners as Point Given, War Emblem, Roman Ruler, Lookin at Lucky, Bayern, and American Pharoah. Not only does this race offer Kentucky Derby points but it’s also a Win and You’re In for the Breeders Cup Classic at Keeneland in November. Dr. Post figures to go favored in this race.

• We are going to find out very soon just how good Baffert’s Uncle Chuck really is. The 3 year old colt is undefeated in two starts, both route races, and he’s earned a 95 Beyer in each race. He worked a half mile at Del Mar Monday morning in 47.60 and did it very easily. But he needs Derby points, and there are only two other races left with points not counting the Haskell. If he stays home and runs in the Shared Belief stakes on August 1st, he has to face Honor A.P., who won the Santa Anita Derby very stylishly. If he goes to Saratoga and runs in the Travers, he has to face Tiz the Law, who won the Belmont stakes like breaking sticks. I’ll bet he stays home and takes the easier spot, but even that one won’t be very easy.

• OPINION: The Coronavirus isn’t getting any better in this country, regardless of what the President says, in fact, it’s getting worse. Why on earth do they let these jockeys fly all over the country and put themselves in a position to test positive with such a contagious disease? Five jockeys have now tested positive from riding at Los Alamitos on July 4th, primarily for the two stakes they had on the program. Both Luis Saez and Martin Garcia flew in to ride that day and both tested positive shortly thereafter, and both riders had been riding at various tracks the past few weeks. Then both Victor Espinoza and Flavien Prat tested positive this past weekend. Neither had the symptoms but took the testing as a precautionary measure, as they also rode on that July 4th card. The problem is every state has different protocols for the safety of the riders, whereby some are very strict and some are very loose. Without any type of a national commissioner, the states/tracks just do whatever they think is best. Someone needs to step up and not allow riders to leave their local tracks, because if they don’t, there’s a very good chance that racing could shut down again in many different states, and that’s bad for everybody involved in the sport. Riders don’t need to travel with the horse. There are plenty of good riders at each and every track, because after all, these are not normal times. Now these riders are locked out for at least 10 days from the day they test positive, and they end up losing valuable mounts anyways. Maybe the Jockey’s Guild will step up to the plate like they have with the “whip” rulings. We can only hope that someone does.