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Del Mar News and Notes July 26

The best racing in California got off to a rousing start last Friday as Del Mar opened their 83rd summer season. They limited the attendance to just under 22,000 at the track, but there was no limit put on the wagering as the overall handle went to $23.56 million, which was an opening day record. They averaged $22.5 million for the first 3 days of the meet which was also an all time record. And why not, the racing office responded with full field cards each of the three days and for the first 32 races of the meet, field size was just under 11 horses per race. How tough was the handicapping? For just a 50 cent wager, the pick fives paid $93,652 on Friday, $383,051 on Saturday, and $25,603 on Sunday. The main track played fair for all three days from a pace standpoint, but on Friday and Saturday, the outside lanes were clearly the best. The turf course favored off the pace runners in the two turn affairs while early speed dominated in the 5/8 sprints. The turf rails do move out to 24 feet this Thursday and that may help speed horses to some degree going two turns. The track is as loaded with horses as much as I can ever remember. All 1800 stalls are full at Del Mar, while San Luis Rey is also full with 500 horses. Count the horses shipping in from Santa Anita, and all of the stock coming down from Nor Cal, it makes the racing secretary’s job much easier in filling races from the published condition books. Racing starts their four day weekly cycle this Thursday with a very good week day card. The Rainbow pick six pool for any single ticket winner has climbed to $200,706 after just three days of racing.

STAKES RECAP: Trainer Phil D’Amato got off to a quick start by winning two of the five stakes, Charlie Whittingham style, as he ran one, two, three in the San Clemente on Saturday. Under a nifty ride by top turf rider Umberto Rispoli, D’Amato won the Oceanside Stakes on Friday to kick off the meet with Balnikhov, who disappointed in his last start. With the blinkers off Friday, the Irish bred was well back in the early going, but swerved inside at the top of the stretch to avoid a lot of trouble and kicked on home to win by two at the wire in 1:34.85 in a field of 13. He paid $8.40 to win in the restricted stakes of non winners of $50,000. Anmer Hall ran huge to get second at 25/1 under Ramon Vasquez and this was just the 3rd start of his career, first around two turns and first ever in a stakes. Mackinnon was sent off as the even money favorite under Hernandez, had a good trip, but couldn’t fire in the lane and settled for fourth. The winner will be back for the Del Mar Derby in early September. In the Grade 2 San Clemente on the turf Saturday, D’Amato and Rispoli teamed up once again to get the money at 3/1 with Bellabel. The winner won off by two, with Sixteen Arches getting second along with Island of Love a neck back in third. All three runners were trained by D;Amato. The winner closed from sixth down the back side and once again, Rispoli dove to the rail at the top of the lane to avoid some chain reaction trouble, which caused a number of horses in the field a better placing. The stews held a 10 minute inquiry before disqualifying the culprit who caused all the trouble, moving her from fifth to ninth in the 11 horse field. The winner will be targeted for the Del Mar Oaks near the end of the meet. In the companion feature on Saturday, Avenue de France knocked down her third stakes of 2022 with a well timed ride from leading rider J.J.Hernandez in the restricted Osunitas stakes, coming from far back and paying $14.00 for trainer Len Powell. The morning line on “France” was 3/1 and J.J. got the hat trick in each of the first two days of the meet. The 2/1 favorite, Hamwood Flier, held on for second just a nose in front of Rocking Redhead. In the first three stakes of the meet, all on the turf, all three winners came from well off the pace.

On Sunday, they ran two stakes with the Grade 3 Cougar II stakes at a mile and a half on the main track, named for the very popular horse in the early 70’s who was a multiple stakes winner. Tizamagician was the 4/5 favorite in this race though he had not raced in a full year. Heywoods Beach stayed close to the favorite all the way around, then kicked clear in the lane for the 3/1victory as the second choice in the wagering. Ramon Vasquez rode the winner for trainer John Sadler, who had won this race three other times in the past.  In the restricted Wickerr stakes, Irideo lit up the board as a $65 winner, as he came from well back in a field of 11 to get the money under new rider Hector Berrios for trainer Marcelo Polanco. The winner won by ¾ of a length and was able to hold off the 9/5 favorite, Gregorian Chant late. The 6/5 morning line favorite Smooth Like Strait was a late scratch, as he drew post 12 in a 13 horse field in this mile on the turf affair. The winner is a South American import who was winning his fifth race in ten lifetime starts. Bran ran a close up third.

There will be stakes action all four days this week with the Cal bred stakes, the Fleet Treat on Thursday at 7/8 on the main track, the Daisycutter on Friday at 5/8 on the turf, and then the two headliners on Saturday for older runners, both on the main track. The Grade 2 San Diego will have a tremendously strong field and then sprinters will go postward in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at six furlong. The Grade 2 Eddie Read Handicap rounds out the stakes action on Sunday at 9 furlongs on the lawn and that man D’Amato may have as many as four runners signed on. But the real race to watch and enjoy is the San Diego Handicap, the major prep for the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in early September. Country Grammer was assigned top weight of 125 lbs. even though he has not raced since March 26, when he took down the $12 million dollar Dubai World Cup. He was second in his earlier race, the $20 million dollar Saudi Cup. He will be facing multiple stakes winner Express Train at 123 pounds, the previous year’s Kentucky Derby winner Mandaloun, fast improving There Goes Harvard, the very game Royal Ship, and other note worthy stakes winners such as Tripoli, Stilleto Boy, Defunded, Senor Buscador, and Parnelli. This should be a hell of a race with the high weight and the favorite, Country Grammer, being vulnerable with the return from Dubai and the layoff. Plus the mile and a sixteenth is not his best distance. He did blow out in 1:11.40 on Sunday morning for Baffert. The Grade 1 Bing Crosby has a probable field of 8with such crack sprinters as American Theorem, Principe Carlo, and the Cal bred Desmond Doss. Mark Glatt says that the probable favorite, Dr. Schivel, has been turned out for the rest of the year due to some minor issues. D’Amato’s four runners for the Eddie Read on Sunday will be Cash Equity, Cathkin Peak, Hong Kong Harry, and Masteroffoxhounds.

On Thursday, D’Amato is loaded once again for the Fleet Treat stakes at 7 furlongs for Cal bred 3 year old fillies. Connie Swingle will be out setting the pace and looms the post time favorite, as she is already a stakes winner and has never been worse than second in six career starts. Then he has Rose Dawson from off the pace and she has never been worse than second in 3 career starts and is also a stakes winner. Fun to Dream for Baffert rounds out the contention and broke her maiden impressively in her lone career start. The field has 8 runners but there isn’t a lot of early speed in the race. On Friday, now with a 4 PM post, race six will host the Daisycutter stakes at five furlongs on the turf for fillies and mares three and up. The very speedy and classy Twilight Gleaming makes her return to California after taking down the Breeders Cup Turf Sprint right here at Del Mar last year. She has never been worse than second in seven career starts and trainer Wesley Ward excels with turf sprinters like nobody in this country. She will be tough to beat. But D’Amato will try, both with Leggs Galore, who is 3 for 3 at this distance on the lawn, and the improving She’s So Nice, who will have to rally from off the pace. Sadie Bluegrass is a hard knocking sprinter from Nor Cal who has 13 career wins from 22 starts, but she may be up against it here from a class stand point. Seven will go to the post in the Friday feature. This will be a very good week of racing at Del Mar. Now if we can just find a few nice priced winners for our clients and ourselves, all will be well.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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