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Del Mar News and Notes for September 3 2019

• The Del Mar race track was rated the safest race track in the country for the year 2018. They didn’t do anything to tarnish that reputation in 2019 as they finished their 7 week summer season without a single fatality from afternoon racing. Yes, they did have 4 fatalities from training in the morning, but only two of them resulted from injury and both were unraced maidens. The other two were a freakish incident resulting from a head on collision. However, it’s totally unfair to compare Del Mar with Santa Anita, the main thing being that it doesn’t rain in California during their race meets. And secondly, Santa Anita conducts three times as many races as Del Mar. I’m sure Santa Anita will be much safer in 2020 than they were this year. There are policies put in place to remove unsound horses before they ever reach the gate, and when the racing surface gets so bad from inclement weather, they will just the cancel the day. But still, Del Mar did an outstanding job with what they had to deal with this year. They had 650 fewer horses on the grounds for entries, yet they still ran five days a week and maintained an average of 8 horses per race. In fact as the meet went on, the entries increased. The last 3 weeks of the meet was like the Del Mar of old, full fields and good quality racing. Overall, handle was down 11% vs. last year, but that was after sizable increases in 2017 and 2018. Favorites won at a rate of 38% overall, 42% on the main track and 34% on the grass. Odds on favorites won at 52%. The pick six was paid out on closing day and the winning tickets paid out at $53,375 to 34 lucky winners. Jockey Flavien Prat easily won the riding title with 42 victories, 10 ahead of Drayden Van Dyke, who got the hat trick on closing day. Prat also had the best win percentage at 27% and easily won the money title as well. He should be one of three finalists for an Eclipse award this year for the top rider in the country, as he also won the Kentucky Derby and the Queens Plate up in Canada. Doug O’Neill won the training title, 24 to 21 over Peter Miller, but he also started 40 more horses at the meet. Bob Hess Jr. topped all trainers at win percentage winning at a 26% clip. The weather was perfect for the entire meet, always in the mid 70’s with a cool ocean breeze. Saratoga has the better quality of racing, but Del Mar has the weather, as “Cool as Ever”.

• There was plenty of stakes action on closing weekend starting with the I’m Smokin stakes on Friday for Cal bred two year olds. Square Deal, who was disqualified from the win 4 weeks earlier in the Graduation stakes, stayed out of trouble this time under Flavien Prat and got the money at $6.40. Square Deal was a Turfdom Best Bet on the day. Phantom Boss went off as the 8/5 choice but stumbled at the start and never did recover. On Saturday, Bob Baffert’s Bast got the money in the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante at 7 furlongs on the main track for two year old fillies. It was a powerful win as she cruised home 9 lengths in front as the second choice in the wagering and paid $7.60. Winning rider Drayden Van Dyke said he had a ton of horse all the way and this one will be one of the favorites in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies up at Santa Anita on November 1st. In one of the best races of the meet, the great mare Vasilika got up in the very last stride to win the Grade 2 John Mabee stakes for older fillies/mares at 9 furlongs on the grass. Vasilika paid $3.80 to win under Prat but the story had to be Juliet Foxtrot, who led by 3 at the 1/8th pole and 2 at the 1/16th pole, and wasn’t stopping. She was a Turfdom Best Bet on the day and she lost by the skinniest of noses you will ever want to see. It was amazing that Vasilika got up but that’s what this mare does. This was her 18th career victory and brought her earnings to $1.5 million, not bad for a $40,000 claim. Foxtrot went off at 7/2 and paid $3.80 to place, the same price Vasilika did to win. The winner will race twice more this year and then be sold to a Kentucky breeder. On Sunday they ran the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby at 9 furlongs on the lawn for sophomores and Nolde got the money at $15.20. He was also a Turfdom Best Bet, as he was when he lost by a nose in his previous race, the Oceanside stakes on opening day. This time he was given an excellent ride by the come backing Victor Espinoza and he needed all of that skill to hold off the onrushing Originaire ridden by Mike Smith. The latter is a star in the making for trainer Jeff Mullins, who has completely rebuilt his stable with a number of good stakes horses. The winner is trained by the ever patient John Shirreffs, who always gives his horses time to develop and doesn’t dance every dance. Then on Monday, they ran the best two year old race of the year in California, the Del Mar Futurity at 7 furlongs on the main track, a race that Baffert had won a record 14 times in the past. He saddled both the favorite and the second choice in the wagering and neither was found anywhere near at the finish. Eight Rings went off as the 1 to 2 choice in a field of 8, ducked in at the gap, unseating both Prat and Van Dyke, who he bumped in the process. Both horse and jockey were fine the next morning. Trainer Peter Miller ran one/two in the race with Nucky pulling off a major upset at $72. But all of the horses struggled home the final furlong and the winning time was 1:25.52, a full 9 lengths slower than the fillies ran the previous day. Our Best Bet of the day was Wrecking Crew, who went off at 9/1, ran a decent second and paid $8.60 to place. However, he had a perfect trip from the outside, looked like a winner at the 1/8th pole, then hung as badly as a horse can hang in the final furlong. The winner had won a maiden claiming race in his previous start by 10 open lengths. Garth, the other Baffert runner, was in contention early, then gave it up at the ¼ pole, and was nowhere to found at the wire. What looked like a very strong field going into the race, looked like a very weak field coming out of the race.

• Los Alamitos opens this Friday, Sept, 6th for 3 weeks of racing at the Orange County oval. We will not be covering that meet, but we will be back on Sept. 27 when Santa Anita opens their six week fall meet that includes two days of the Breeders Cup on November 1-2. Then Del Mar will open for four weeks on November 8th. We will be covering both meets and “flyers” will be sent out by mid Sept. with subscription prices for both meets. Thank you for reading our News and Notes and Horses to Watch list throughout the year.

Rod Young (Turfdom)

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