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Del Mar News and Notes Week 3

•     The first 3 weeks of the Del Mar Summer meet have zoomed by very quickly, and it’s hard to believe that the meet is almost half over. So far at least, management has accomplished their goal, and that is to cut down on catastrophic injuries to the animals that put on the show. Last year there were 17 horses that had to be euthanized due to injury and there have been zero so far at this meet, to the best of my knowledge. However, the track has played slow, deep, and tiring, and many trainers just don’t like it. The ones that are winning races say the track is just fine, like Phil D’Amato and Doug O’Neill. The ones that aren’t winning races like Peter Miller and Bob Hess Jr., say the track is bad. Hess has had 3 horses that “bowed” a tendon during the meet, which is quite unusual, and though that isn’t a life threatening injury, in many cases the horse will not run again. So much like the synthetic tracks around the country, the track is much safer, but there are different types of injuries that pop up due to the deep, tiring surface. The rate of winning favorites are starting to climb after the third week of racing with dirt winners up to 29% and turf winners up to 24%. The main track continues to favor early speed for the most part in both sprints and routes, while the turf course continues to favor off the pace runners, especially in two turn affairs. Speed does have a better chance of holding when the rails are out 24 to 30 feet, which usually happens on the weekdays.  
There were 3 graded stakes over the weekend and there were no big surprises in any of them from a price standpoint. Mark Glatt’s good sophomore, Sharp Samurai took the Grade 3 La Jolla on Sunday for 3 year olds on the grass under a cagey ride by the veteran, Gary Stevens. He was the 7/5 wagering favorite. Many of the stretch runners in this race moved way too soon at the 3/8th pole, but Stevens sat “chilly” and let them go, then timed his move at just the right time to get the money. He’ll be back on September 3rd for the Del Mar Derby. On Saturday we had both winners on top in our selections with Cambodia ($6.60) nailing down the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon for older fillies/mares on the grass, then Spectator ($10.80), easily winning the Grade 3 Sorrento stakes by five widening lengths. Cambodia was the 2nd choice in the wagering to Avenge who was the 4/5 favorite, who ran horribly to finish off the board, but this turf course has not been kind to early speed, at least thus far in the meet. The late runners in this field ran one – two – three as the speed faded once again. Drayden Van Dyke rode the winner and he is a very good, underrated turf rider. In the Sorrento, Spectator was a nice overlay from a 5/2 morning line. She fought for the lead early, put all the speed away at the top of the lane, then cruised home like a champ under Jamie Theriot to win by five. Phil D’Amato trains the winner and she will be back on Sept. 2nd in the Grade 1 Debutante and they will not beat her. She has won both of her starts by five plus lengths and paid double digits in both of them. Peter Miller’s even money favorite, Surrender Now, ran last, after fighting for the lead early from the dreaded rail post.

Racing returns this Wednesday with the single ticket jackpot of the pick six at $85,213. One lucky ticket hit the pick six last week with the jackpot at over $636,000, and was purchased on the East Coast with a $3800 ticket. The Solana Beach, named for the town right next to Del Mar, kicks off the stakes program this week for Cal breds on Friday evening. Richard Mandella’s Majestic Heat will be back to defend her title, but she hasn’t raced since last November, so she might just be vulnerable. Moonless Sky, Starlite Style, Shehastheritestuff, and maybe even Moger’s Qiaona, look like the logical contenders. Then on Saturday, they run the Grade 2 Best Pal for two year olds at six and a half on the main track. Run Away, who is undefeated in two starts will be the favorite, but favorites have not done well at this meet, so Serengeti (an 11 length maiden winner), Master Ruler, Armour Plate, Fleetwood, and Ride to the Wire, all have a look. Then on Sunday, older fillies/mares hook up in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo, a sprint on the main track at six and a half. This race will have a small field with Bendable facing off against Skye Diamonds as the principles.
The young apprentice Evin Roman has opened up a six win lead in the riding title over Flavian Prat and may be very hard to overhaul. He is riding like a veteran and is getting 7 and 8 mounts per day. All the top barns are using him and veterans like Prat and Bejarano are not getting the mounts they used to. Does the five pound weight allowance really make that big a difference? Apparently so. Phil D’Amato and Doug O’Neill lead the trainers with 8 wins apiece and Richard Baltas has 7. Of D’Amato’s 8 wins, 5 have come in stakes.
Opinion: Del Mar has introduced a new tiered purse structure for Cal bred allowance races. Those entered for a claiming tag will run for a much lower purse than those entered for the allowance condition. The first example took place in Sunday’s opener where only five were entered. Three ran for a purse of $35,000 while two ran for a purse of $62,000. Freddies Dream won the race as the 3/5 favorite and received just 60% of the $35,000 purse, yet had to beat allowance horses to do it. The track saved $27,000 due to the maneuver. The track overpaid purses the last few years and is trying to get out of the hole and this is one of the ways they are using. In my opinion, they should write allowance races without the optional claiming price and everybody run for the same purse. Of course if they did this, they would really struggle to fill a race, as they need the claimers. Even combining the two, they still only had five horses on Sunday, and that’s an embarrassment for this race track. The racing office has received a fair amount of criticism from owners/trainers for this ploy, and rightfully so. It’s never easy, even at the popular, boutique meets.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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