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Del Mar News and Notes (Nov 24)

Del Mar heads into their final week of racing this Thursday with a blockbuster schedule of 7 graded stakes in four days, all on the grass. Through four weeks of racing, overall handle for this meet is up a whopping 25% vs. last year and the best is yet to come. Those numbers are quite impressive when you consider that Del Mar has to go up against college football on Saturday and pro football on Sunday. Favorites have been winning at 37% overall for the meet, 43% on the main track and 29.5% on the lawn. Early speed was dominant on the main track Sunday but most of those winners were heavy favorites. The turf course has continued to play fair and the inner rails will be just 12 feet out this Thursday and Friday and then all the way in for Saturday and Sunday. There will be an early first post of 11:00 AM for Thanksgiving with an 8 race card and the pick six c/o of $120,249 for a single ticket winner for the 50 cent wager. If nobody hits this wager by Sunday, there will be a mandatory payout for closing day.

They ran two stakes over the weekend and both produced double digit payoffs. On Saturday they had the Grade 3 Native Diver stakes at 9 furlongs on the main track and Midcourt was the heavy 2/5 favorite under Victor Espinoza. Richard Mandella’s Extra Hope wired the field under Juan Hernandez and paid a nifty $10.40 in just a four horse field, shortened by late scratches. Extra Hope was a Turfdom Best Bet on the day and received a 94 Beyer number, the best of his career. Midcourt ran a decent second and only got beat a length, but he ran like a tired horse and has had a long campaign. He will probably get some time off now while the winner is headed for the Grade 2 San Antonio at Santa Anita on opening day, Dec. 26. Mandella had another horse in the race, Royal Ship, who stumbled badly out of the gate and nearly unseated his rider, Mike Smith. He was no factor in the race and the South American import has yet to run a decent race in three starts in this country, but Mandella is too good of a trainer not to figure him out, and he might be very playable in his next start, which will probably be a return to the grass. Then on Sunday they had the Cary Grant stakes for Cal breds at 7 furlongs on the main track and longshot Loud Mouth roared late and nipped our selection Take the One O One right at the wire. The winner paid $28.00 and has now knocked us out of a pick five for the second straight time. He was ridden by the leading rider at this meet, Abel Cedillo, and he tracked quick fractions of 22.13, 44.94, and 1:09.56 and got up late. The even money favorite Galilean finished fourth and the third choice in the wagering, El Tigre Terrible, never ran a step even though he had a fast pace in front of him. The winner is trained by Steve Knapp, who is a very underrated horseman and deals mostly with claiming stock.

The Turf Festival kicks off this Thursday with the Grade 3 Red Carpet stakes at 11 furlongs on the lawn and will have a 10 horse field for older fillies and mares. Top eastern riders Joel Rosario, Irad Ortiz (the current Eclipse award winner), and Manny Franco (of Tiz the Law fame) all have mounts in the race and all three will ride here the entire week. The eastern invaders Orglandes (Ortiz) and Blame Debbie (Franco) look like the ones to beat, while the locals will have Quick (Rispoli) and California Kook (Rosario) to counter. The Red Carpet goes as race six on Thanksgiving day. Then on Friday they have 14 entered in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup at 12 furlongs on the lawn but only 12 will race. Once again the eastern invaders look the strongest with Arklow, from the Brad Cox stable, who was a close up sixth in the B/C Turf, heading up the field. Other prominent runners are Say the Word, coming off a Grade 1 win at Woodbine and Laccario from the Graham Motion stable. The locals will counter with Oscar Dominguez, who is the defending champ and Red King, who recently won the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. On Saturday they will have the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante stakes for two year old fillies at a mile on the turf, headed up by Fluffy Socks from the Chad Brown barn and Invincible Gal from the Graham Motion stable. 13 will go to the post for that race. Also on Saturday will be the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap for older runners at a mile and a sixteenth on the lawn. 13 will go to the post here with eastern invaders Spirit Animal, Flavius, and Count Again gaining most of the attention while the locals counter with Bowies Hero, Next Shares, and One Bad Boy. Then to top off the Saturday card will be the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby for sophomores at 9 furlongs on the sod. Smooth Like Strait, Domestic Spending, Decorated Invader, and Gufo figure to garner most of the attention. That race will be the finale on the card and has 13 entries as well. On Sunday, they wrap it all up very nicely with the Grade 1 Matriarch, the signature race of the meet for older fillies and mares at a mile on the turf. Manny Franco has the mount on Sharing for trainer Graham Motion, who is coming off an outstanding second at Royal Ascot in the Grade 1 Coronation stakes. Trainer Chad Brown has four nominated for the race, Blowout, Newspaperofrecord, Tamahere, and Viadera. Juliet Foxtrot will represent trainer Brad Cox and the locals have such outstanding runners as Jolie Olimpica and Maxim Rate. Entries will be drawn on Thursday for Sunday’s card.

Abel Cedillo, who won the riding title here last year, won two on Sunday and has now opened up an 8 win lead on Flavien Prat for the riding title with four race days to go. Cedillo has 18 victories, followed by Prat with 10, Umberto Rispoli with 9 and Mike Smith with 8. Smith continues to have the best win percentage of any of the riders at 27%. Peter Miller has 9 training victories this meet and is two up on the two Richards, Mandella and Baltas. Doug O’Neill and Baffert both have six wins while Mandella has the best win percentage at 44%, closely followed by Baffert at 38%.

Unfortunately, the Coronavirus has continued to run rampant throughout the nation and now has got to the point where it affects our sport. Out of 500 employees at Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area, at least 200 of them tested positive for the virus and racing has been shut down through November, and maybe even till the end of the meet which is Dec. 13. It has ceased racing on Nov. 13 due to the virus. Zia Park in New Mexico is also closed down through the end of the month for the same reason, and Woodbine in Canada is ending their meet 3 weeks in advance due to the virus. Their last day of racing was this past Saturday. And then to top it all off, Tampa Bay Downs, which opens their meet this Wednesday, has said that they will allow spectators and fans on track for their meet. How ignorant and irresponsible is that? They cite that their on track business suffers while there are no fans at the track. How about all the other tracks in the country that suffer for all of the same reasons but try to do the right thing to end this pandemic. Track management and the Governor of Florida ought to have their heads examined to allow this to happen. All the more reason why our sport needs a national commissioner, just like all the other sports have. If we’re not careful, the goose that lays the golden egg for all of us will soon be gone.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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