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Aug 31 Del Mar News and Notes

Week six is in the books at Del Mar and the meet continues to be one of the best ever. There are two weeks left and they will race five days this week due to Labor Day and then the final three days on Sept. 9,10, and 11. And yes, the best is yet to come. This week they will have 9 stakes over the weekend headed up by the $1 million Pacific Classic featuring the undefeated and untested Flightline. Even with a quiet weekend this past week, the all sources handle on Saturday topped $21 million. Overall, favorites are winning at a 35.3% clip through Sunday, 38.6% on the main track and 31.2% on the turf course. And even though those numbers are a bit on the high side for Del Mar, plenty of long priced horses still exist, as evidenced by the pick six payoff on Saturday of $461,147 for the 20 cent wager. This Saturday was supposed to be a mandatory payout for that wager, and it will still be, but the pool will be on the small side, with only $45,935 carried over into this Thursday. The main track continues to play fair and the outside bias that was so prominent early in the meet is in the rearview mirror. In two turn races on the turf, when the rails are 12 feet out or less, the off the pace runners have a huge advantage, regardless of the early fractions. When the rails are 18 feet out to 30 feet out, the course is playing fair. Early speed still has the advantage in 5/8 turf sprints, especially with the rails out, but it is only a slight advantage. Racing returns this Thursday with an 8 race card and a new post time of 1 PM, which will remain in force for the balance of the meet with the exception being Fridays at 3 PM.     

STAKES RECAP: Two stakes to recap this past week, one each Saturday and Sunday, and both were graded. On Saturday, 10 very good sprinters went to the post in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at 7/8 on the main. Speakers Corner, who had been hooking the best two horses in the country in his last two starts, Flightline and Life is Good, went to the post as the heavy 4/5 favorite, but this was not his day, as he got hooked early and spit out the bit at the 1/8 pole. Baffert had two hard knockers in here in Defunded and Laurel River, and the latter got the money in a most impressive manner, winning of by four and paying $15.80. He lagged in 4th down the back side and leading rider J.J. Hernandez dove to the rail at the top of the lane, and he exploded like a grass horse to easily pull away from a talented field. American Theorem, who won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby earlier in the meet, rallied for second, but was a non factor in winning this race, as it was all Laurel River. And according to Baffert, this isn’t even his best distance. Well, it just so happens this race was a Win and Your In for the Breeders Cup Mile at Keeneland and there’s where Baffert will be with this runner. He will tune up for that race with a two turn Grade 1 at Santa Anita, the Awesome Again stakes on October 1st. He received a 108 Beyer figure on Saturday and the time for the 7 furlongs was a strong 1:21.37 clocking. On Sunday, five runners went to the post in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo at six and a half on the main for older fillies and mares. John Sadler’s Edgeway got the money at 4 to 5 in a hard struggle down the lane prevailing by a neck over a very game Slammed, who also went to the gate at 4 to 5. And although Slammed didn’t win this race, she ran a marvelous race taking all the worst of it throughout the race. She was caught in a speed duel down the back side right in the middle of two speedsters, the winner on the outside and Dance to the Music on her inside. They put “Music” away at the ¼ pole and the two favorites ran as a team down the stretch with Edgeway on the outside just laying on Slammed the entire length of the stretch. The winner even came in on her at the 1/16 pole and bumped her but no inquiry was called. It was 8 lengths back to the third horse. This race was decided last Thursday when the entries were taken and Edgeway got the five hole and Slammed the 4 hole. The winner will now rest until the Breeders’ Cup sprint at Keeneland on Nov. 5. J.J. Hernandez was on the winner as he won three on the day. Slammed lost for just the third time in 11 trips to the post.  
They have nine stakes lined up for Labor Day weekend at Del Mar with five of them on Saturday, Pacific Classic Day, a day you don’t want to miss. They draw entries late Tuesday for the Classic and though the exciting Flightline should be the heavy favorite, he isn’t scaring all that many away. They had 9 nominations for the race but one or two of them might bow out and look for another race as Flightline looks unbeatable the way he is training up to the race. He had his final 5/8 blowout Saturday and it was termed as breezing, as he clocked out at 59. 60 and was hardly breathing. Sadler has brought the four year old up to this race as perfectly as any trainer possibly could. Country Grammer figures to be his biggest threat and he also worked 5/8 Saturday in a minute flat for Baffert. Stilleto Boy had the exact same time for Ed Moger, while Express Train went ¾ in 1:12.80. Extra Hope, a longshot in the race for Richard Mandella also went ¾ in 1:12 flat which was a bullet for the distance. Mandella will also saddle Royal Ship for this race. The Del Mar Mile, a Grade 2 for older runners on the turf had 22 nominations, headed up by Count Again, who won the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile up at Santa Anita on Memorial Day for Phil D’Amato. Last year’s Pacific Classic winner, Tripoli, will go in the Mile along with None Above the Law, Hong Kong Harry, and Irideo. The Grade 2 Del Mar Derby for sophomores at 9 furlongs on the grass had 16 nominations and Balnikhov, who won the Oceanside stakes on opening day heads up that field. Other contenders will be Cabo Spirit, Mackinnon, Slow Down Andy, Dandy Warhol, and War at Sea. The Del Mar Handicap will be at 11 furlongs for the marathoners on the lawn and had 22 nominations headed up by Master Piece, Heywoods Beach, Tizamagician, and Beyond Brilliant as the principle contenders. The final stakes on the card is non graded, the Shared Belief at a mile on the main track with Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba heading up that field. Taiba was also nominated for the Classic but Baffert says he will run here. Armagnac and Newgrange are also contenders for this race that ended up with 11 nominations. Saturday should be an outstanding day of racing.     

Sunday’s two stakes are the Green Flash at 5/8 on the turf and the Torrey Pines at a mile on the main track for sophomore fillies and both races are Grade 3’s. Lieutenant Dan and Gregorian Chant head up the Green Flash that had 23 nominees for older runners. Three females were also among the nominations i.e, Connie Swingle, Leggs Galore, and Royal Address. All three of them are also entered in an allowance race on Friday for non winners of the third allowance condition, which did go with 9 entries. Desert Dawn, Grace Adler and Under the Stars head up the Torrey Pines which had 11 nominees. The two stakes on Labor Day are the Generous Portion for two year olds with 11 nominations and the Tranquility Lake for older fillies and mares. Tom’s Regret and Chismosa head up the Generous Portion while Soothsay and Eddie’s New Dream are the headliners in the Tranquility Lake.

As mentioned earlier, Juan Hernandez nailed down a three bagger on Sunday, has 39 wins for the meet, and is now 16 ahead of Umberto Rispoli, who continues to be far and away the best rider on this turf course. Rispoli won three on Saturday, all on the turf, and all from well off the pace. Ramon Vasquez is in third with 18 wins and is quietly having a very good meet. Hernandez has the most mounts of anybody in the jock’s room, but he also has the highest win percentage at 27%. Mike Smith, at 56 years young, is second at 24%. Baffert won the Pat O’Brien stakes on Saturday with Laurel River and is now on top of the trainer standings with 14 victories, one ahead of Phil D’Amato and Doug O’Neill, but D’Amato is loaded with turf runners for the final two weeks and there will be plenty of use for this turf course in that time span. Watch O’Neill, because now that he is in contention, he will be dropping many of his horses in claiming races the final two weeks in an attempt to steal many of the larger purses. Baffert leads in win percentage at 29% followed by Jonathan Wong, the Nor Cal trainer who has been red hot lately at 28%. He won three over the weekend.  

Jockey Emily Ellingwood won two races on Saturday and that’s big news. Her 2nd win was the 40th of her career which means she is no longer an apprentice rider. Emily is a nice young lady, but she is very weak in the stretch, and looks totally uncomfortable on a horse when she has to whip and ride at the same time. She has got a tough row to hoe as a journeyman rider. Jockey Florent Geroux will no longer ride in California except for spot assignments in stakes races. He was pretty much a disappointment in the six weeks he was here at Del Mar, winning only about 10% of the time while getting plenty of good mounts from most of the top stables. He will ride in Kentucky starting this week and stay on the east coast the rest of this year. Jockey Tyler Baze has finally been cleared to ride this week after failing medication tests for three consecutive weeks. He was on high blood pressure medication that never seemed to clear his system. His agent, the former trainer Jack Carava, is probably the one now on blood pressure medication. The game is just plain tough no matter how one is involved.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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