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Del Mar News and Notes (Aug. 25)

•    The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has six weeks in the books of their 8 week summer season and will now have two four day race weeks for the final two weeks of the meet. The track will race this Monday August 31, as a make - up day for one of the days lost earlier in the meet when 15 of 19 riders tested positive from the dreaded virus. The fans came out to play this past Saturday for the Pacific Classic card as the overall wagering amounted to $24,491,319, which was the fifth largest handle in the track’s history, not counting a Breeders Cup card. They wagered more than last year when they had 20,000 plus fans at the track, and of course this year there are no spectators, other than some owners who are allowed at certain portions of the grandstand. The main track continues to play fair while the turf course does favor closers in two turn races, especially when the inner rails are all the way in, as they were on Saturday. Racing will resume this Friday with a pick six c/o of $89,465 in the main pool and $19,171 in the single ticket jackpot pool. Safety first: Del Mar had their second fatality on Monday, August 24, when a horse (Irreproachable) broke down in training. They have not had a single fatality happen in six weeks of racing and didn’t have a single one last summer in 7 weeks of racing. That is an amazing record.

•   They had five graded stakes on Saturday and one each on Friday and Sunday this past week as this was the signature week for the track, and the marquee event was the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic for older runners on Saturday, which drew a field of six with the $12 million earner Maximum Security. And the heavy 2 to 5 favorite did not disappoint as he went right to the lead and wired the field under Abel Cedillo for winning trainer Bob Baffert. This was a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders Cup Classic and I’ve got to think “Security” is the favorite for that race, regardless of the outcome of the Kentucky Derby in three weeks. The winning margin at the wire was three lengths over Sharp Samurai who ran a bang up race, as he dogged the heavy favorite throughout but had little to offer in the final furlong. Both Higher Power and Midcourt ran disappointing races and just aren’t in the same class as the winner. Baffert will now point his star pupil to either the Awesome Again at Santa Anita or the Jockey Club Gold Cup in New York prior to the Cup. With the B/C in Keeneland this year and the Coronavirus still very active, Cedillo may lose this mount for the Cup to the regular rider, Luis Saez. Baffert said “Security” wasn’t even blowing going back to the barn after running 10 furlongs.

•   Of the five graded stakes on Saturday, we did have the top selection in four of the races on our sheet, but the one we didn’t have, was the Irish bred Red Lark who pulled off the upset in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks for 3 year old fillies at 9 furlongs on the lawn. Under a perfect ride from Drayden Van Dyke, who was coming off five race days of suspensions, the 19/1 outsider had an ideal trip and cruised home a length to the good of another longshot, California Kook, who was off at 25/1. Laura’s Light, who was coming off back to back graded stakes wins was the favorite, but she was on the lead throughout, and that’s a tough way to win on this course when the rails are all the way in. She stopped at the top of the lane and 9 furlongs is not her best distance. Neither of the French imports fired at all and received heavy play with the best two turf riders, Rispoli and Prat, having the mounts. Warren’s Showtime, a very steady performer on the turf ran a good third, but was used too early by Mike Smith, who is having a very difficult Del Mar meet. Paddy Gallagher, the former assistant to Willie Shoemaker, was the winning trainer. In a very exciting finish, Red King just did hang on in the Del Mar Handicap at 11 furlongs on the grass for older runners over the odds on favorite, United. Bet down from a M/L of 8/1 to 4/1, Red King’s rider, Rispoli, made a huge move at the half mile pole to circle past five horses and assume the lead, which seemed a bit premature at the time. But the rider felt the pace was too slow and the way this jock is riding the turf these days, nobody questions his decisions at any point in the race. United, who is as game as they come, was stuck down on the inside most of the race and never did get clear sailing until very late. The winner paid $10.60 and the winning margin was a neck at the wire. Red King is also off to the Breeders Cup as this was a Win and You’re In for the B/C turf. The winner was a $25,000 claim by D’Amato back in February of 2019 and has now won back to back graded stakes. In other stakes action Saturday, Harvest Moon won the Grade 3 Torrey Pines stakes for soph fillies on the main track as the 3 to 2 favorite ridden by Flavien Prat. Secret Keeper ran a good second in her first try around two turns and looks like a future star. She made our Horses to Watch list. Chaos Theory, a recent claim by Sadler, took down the Green Flash stakes, a Grade 3 for older turf sprinters earlier in the program. That man Rispoli was in the irons and he paid $5.60 after being bet down from a morning line of 7/2. The win by Sadler moved him into second place all time at Del Mar for the most stakes wins, one ahead of 88 year old Ron McAnally. Try and guess who the all time leader is at this track that has been conducting  racing since 1937.  And then on Sunday, Mo Forza, who had been away from the races for 7 months, took down the Del Mar Mile for older turf runners under Prat with a scintillating stretch run. The margin was four at the wire but he was 6 in front at the 1/16 pole and was being geared down at that point. You just don’t see horses win off by that much on this course. His goal is the Breeders Cup Mile at Keeneland in November. Mark Glatt made the right decision by running Sharp Samurai against “Security” on Saturday rather than taking on Mo Forza in this race. First, he probably wouldn’t have beaten Forza, and secondly, he found out Samurai can handle the dirt against top competition. Forza received $90,000 for winning the Del Mar Mile Sunday and Sharp Samurai received $100,000 for running 2nd to Security on Saturday. Glatt’s a pretty savvy trainer.

•   Santa Anita Park, which will start their fall meet on Sept. 19, announced they will add a turf chute to their course whereby they can have turf sprints at six and six and a half furlongs. Currently they have been sprinting at five and a half on the turf as they cancelled the sprints coming down the hill as a safety measure. They figure the course will be completed in early 2021 and the longer distances will be very popular with both the fan base and the trainers. They have talked about reinstating the popular hillside sprints but I don’t see that happening, which is the main reason for extending the course.

•    Umberto Rispoli took a four length lead in the jockey standings into Sunday’s race card but Flavien Prat pulled off a triple, all with trainer Peter Miller, and he closed the gap to just two, 36 to 34. Rispoli did win one on Sunday, and of course it was on the grass. Since the start of this meet, he has won with 38% of all of his turf mounts, an amazing statistic. In the trainer standings, Phil D’Amato had closed within one of Peter Miller, who has been on top from the beginning, but Miller notched 3 on Sunday and now has a four length cushion. Simon Callaghan continues to lead all trainers with the best win percentage at 35.

•   And finally, Del Mar has started timing all of their grass races by hand and will continue to do so until the end of the meet. They along with 12 other race tracks across the country installed a new timing device this year called Gmax, that uses GPS technology. It’s fine for the main track but is totally inaccurate for the turf course, especially when the rails are moved out, which they often are. They first noticed the problem back on August 1-2 when the Racing Form charts didn’t align with the posted times. Since that weekend, Andy Beyer says they have been hand timing all turf races at this track for coming up with the Beyer numbers for the Form. We don’t use the Beyer numbers to handicap turf races at Turfdom, but we do use their “par” number to determine which horses class wise can run to par   for a certain level of competition, so it is important that the numbers be accurate. Especially on the turf when there can be four or five horses separated by just a length at the wire. Traditionally, timing at most tracks was done by a teletimer, an electronic system that uses invisible beams that are tripped when horses cross over them. Then in 2006 they went to Trakus system, where chips were placed inside the saddle cloths and antennas were used to track their times. The GPS system introduced this year was supposed to be the best ever, and it has been for the main track. Just remember this for grass racing, as noted author James Quinn used to say, it’s “class on the grass”, and if you can identify the class horses in the race, forget about time, which only matters when you’re in jail. Like a good jockey agent, know where your grass horses fit on the circuit you play, and you’ll do just fine. Also, try and get Rispoli to ride your horse.            

by Rod Young (Turfdom)

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