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Del Mar News and Notes Closing Week

•    Del Mar finished off another successful racing summer season on Monday with increases in both overall handle and field size, as compared to either of the two previous years. Overall handle was up a robust 6.8% for the meet and the average field size grew to 8.7per race. Handle was up last year 5.1% vs. 2016, so that’s a 12% increase over two years. But most importantly, the main track was safe. There was only one fatality the entire meet which was racing related whereas there were double digit fatalities in years past. The race track was slow and heavy, but it was safe. Times were off anywhere from 5 to 10 lengths depending on the class of the race. Young jockey Drayden Van Dyke finally emerged as a star on this circuit by the winning the riding title by five over talented Flavian Prat, and Encinitas resident Peter Miller ran away with the training title winning by 10 over Doug O’Neill. Miller absolutely owned those five furlong turf sprints at the meet. Trainer Bob Baffert won with 11 first time starters with two year olds and it was uncanny how he always drew the outside posts with his juveniles, always the best place to be in sprints. He even won with a turf route horse with a first time starter on closing day, the turf being an Achilles heel in his portfolio. Accelerate was voted the Horse of the Meet by winning the Pacific Classic by 12 some lengths and is one of the early favorites for the Breeders Cup Classic in November. Racing heads up north to Los Alamitos on Thursday for a three week meet and then it’s on to Santa Anita, where they open up a six week fall meet on September 28.

•    They ran a number of graded stakes over the closing three day weekend, but none was more important than the Del Mar Futurity on closing day. This was supposed to be a standoff between Hollendorfer’s Instagrand  and Baffert’s Roadster, but it didn’t work out that way. The owner of the former decided not to run and save his horse for the two turn Santa Anita stakes race and Roadster ran a disappointing third at 3 to 5. Of course, Baffert always wins this race and 2018 was no exception, as Game Winner ($5.20) got the money over a very game Rowayton by a length and a half. Rowayton has the same owner as Instagrand and it was his decision not to run, not that of the trainer Hollendorfer. Rowayton could have won this race at 7/1, but he went too fast too early and it cost him in the final 75 yards. What was interesting in this race was that Baffert put Mario Gutierrez up on the winner. Now Mario is a good rider and was having a good meet, but he never rides for Baffert. Smith and Van Dyke already had obligations in the race and those are the two that Baffert looks for in these types of big money races. Joe Talamo and Martin Garcia have been capable backups to those two in the past and they were both open in the race. Bejarano was also available but never got the call. On Sunday they ran the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby at 9 furlongs on the turf and there was only one Eastern shipper in the race, and you guessed it, he completely outclassed this field at the overlay price of $13.60. He was Turfdom’s Best Bet of the day on our selection sheet. Van Dyke was getting his 10th stakes win of the meet on Ride a Comet, who lagged early in the race, but closed like a freight train the final furlong. River Boyne was the even money favorite and was looking for his sixth consecutive Southern California stakes win, but the rider kept him up too close to the pace, and he couldn’t finish like he normally does. Like most good grass horses, they need to be covered up early to perform at their best. The winner, trained by Mark Casse, will probably be back at Del Mar in the fall for the Hollywood Derby on this grass course. Then on Saturday they had two graded stakes with Vasilika taking down the Grade 2 John C. Mabee stakes at $10.40 under Prat, beating the 4 to 5 shot Cambodia in the process by a length and a half. This was Vasilika’s sixth consecutive win since the Dorf claimed her for $40K 8 races ago, and she has earned $291,000 since that claim. Cambodia had a good trip in this race, but couldn’t accelerate like the winner the final furlong. Flavian Prat is head and shoulders above the other riders on this circuit when it comes to performing on the turf. He keeps his mounts out of trouble and always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. The other graded stakes on Saturday was the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante for two year old fillies going 7 furlongs on the main track and it was hard to separate the top 3 fillies in the race. Only five showed up and Bellafina had the best draw on the outside and got the money at a very playable $6.60. She won by four under Prat over Baffert’s runner, Mother Mother. The disappointment in the race was the 3 to 5 favorite Brill, who much like Roadster, was all the rage coming into the race. She just plain didn’t fire and came out of the race fine. Both of the winners in the two Grade 1 juvenile stakes were won by the horse with the outside post, and that held true most of the meet at sprint distances.

•    48 year old Kent Desormeaux is a talented rider and is already in the Hall of Fame, but he had a tough Del Mar meet winning only 8% of his mounts and finishing far down the list of riders. On Sunday, the Del Mar stewards suspended him for 3 days (Sept.13-15) for failure to properly ride out his mount back on August 25. Desormeaux has had a bad habit over the years to stop riding in a race once he sees he cannot win the race. Some trainers like this, as he saves the mount for another day and doesn’t use up the horse when he knows he can’t win. But many trainers don’t like this as the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th purse money is just as important to them as winning. The wagering public who bet exactas and trifectas really deplore this as it costs them money when a rider isn’t trying all the way to the wire. Most riders have learned how to “fake” this action by at least waving the whip at the mount and make it look like they are still trying, but not Desormeaux. He blatantly stops riding and stops urging his mount and it becomes very easy to spot. This is not something new for Desormeaux, as he has been fined and suspended for this type of action dating all the way back to 1993 at Hollywood Park. A three day suspension for Kent at Los Alamitos is simply a slap on the wrist. He may never even ride at this track. If you are the type of bettor who likes to play these types of wagers, this is something to keep in mind when filling out your tickets. Believe me, Mr. Desormeaux is not going to change.

•     One of the things I detest about horse racing is their unwillingness to make changes. Just because they have always done things certain ways, management refuses to make changes to help the sport. But the sport is dying in many ways as they are not doing enough to attract the younger crowd to replace the old timers who are dying off. 75% of my client base are retired, and though people continue to live longer, they don’t live forever. But the new management at Santa Anita, led by Tim Ritvo, “get it”. They continue to make changes to help the sport. When they launch their Fall meet on Sept. 28 they will introduce a new wager called the “Stronach Five”, and it will consist of picking the winner from five different races from four different tracks, all owned by the Stronach Group, i.e. Santa Anita, Laurel, Golden Gate, and Gulfstream. These five races will all be run within a 45 minute span, Fridays only to begin with, and just a 12% takeout. The minimum wager will be just $1 dollar. If nobody picks all five, the pool carries over. Now combine that with the 20 cent pick six that they will start at Santa Anita to replace the $2 pick six, and then offer five furlong turf races to go along with the six and a half down the hill, and you have a company that is making changes in an attempt to acquire new customers. Even if none of this works, and it may not, at least they are trying something new. Santa Anita has spent millions updating their entire facility to make it more attractive to millenials. Del Mar and Saratoga continue to flourish in the summer, but they are “boutique” meets that last only 7 weeks. It’s the other 45 weeks of the year that the industry needs to focus on. It would really be great if Santa Anita could once again be the “Great Race Place”.

•    We will not be running a daily selection sheet for the next three weeks as we take off during the Los Alamitos meet. We will be up and running again on September 28 as Santa Anita opens their six week fall meet, and the Horses to Watch list and the News and Notes will also return at that time. Our price list for both Santa Anita and Del Mar fall meets are on our web site at “myturfdom.net”. Thank you again for your time and patronage, Rod Young, Turfdom.

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