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Del Mar Opening Week News and Notes

•    Del Mar completed their first full five day week of their Fall meet on Sunday. The main track had a strong speed bias on Wednesday and Thursday, but that tapered off on Friday as the track was considered “fair” for Day One of the Breeders’ Cup. That scenario changed dramatically on Saturday where the inside part of the track was “dead” and rally wide closers won all the races with the exception of the last, where Gun Runner overcame a double bias and still won as only a great horse can. The change from Thursday to Saturday was dramatic as far as a track bias can go, and we don’t overplay these conditions. Normally something like this only happens when the skies unload with a deluge of rain, and that was not the case at Del Mar last week. What we get this week when racing returns on Friday is anyone’s guess, but nobody knows for sure. The turf course seems to be a much safer wager as the course continues to favor off the pace runners. The only time speed has a chance to prevail is when the rails are out 30 feet which narrows the course, and even then, a slight edge goes to runners from just off the pace. Even in the 5/8th sprints, horses sitting just off the pace have the advantage. The rails normally move out on the week days and move in to their normal position on the weekends. In Sunday’s pick six races, favorites won all six legs, but the bias for both the main track and the turf course were still in place. Bettors just recognized how both surfaces were playing.

•    Del Mar hosted their first ever Breeders’ Cup on Friday and Saturday and most experts gave the host track an A+ for their overall performance. They limited the on track crowd to just 37,000 patrons, the weather was absolutely perfect, and to my knowledge, none of the horses broke down on the race track. Those are all good things. But from a handicapping perspective, this track is just too small to have a Breeders’ Cup. 14 horses trying to navigate their way around a turf course with tight turns, a narrow width (yes, I know it was widened), and a short stretch make it more of a lottery than a race. Let me give you one of many examples. On Friday, in the fillies Juvenile turf, a Euro named Happily was 5/1 on the morning line. She drew the two hole going a mile on the turf. She was bet down to the 2/1 wagering favorite and was well meant. This horse got boxed in down at the rail the entire trip, steadied and took up more times than we can count, and never could find a way out. She was full of run from the 3/8th pole to the wire and ended up running last, as she just gave up at the 1/8th pole and was eased. She wasn’t hurt, she wasn’t sore, she was just frustrated. By the way, the rider was Ryan Moore, who many consider one of the top turf riders in the world. Now I know that situation can happen at Santa Anita or Churchill Downs as well, that’s just racing. But the issue is that it happens far too much at Del Mar when you have that many in a race. It becomes a crap shoot to find a seam to get through. And when the bias favors off the pace runners, which it does, you have to save ground and then get lucky at the top of the stretch. One might as well throw the past performances out the window, cross your fingers, and then say a prayer. I guess that’s why you have winners that pay $135, 50 cent pick fours that pay $289,000 and pick sixes that pay $388,000 without a carryover.

•    We’ll cover a few key races from both B/C days: The Distaff was the major race on Friday and Forever Unbridled kept her perfect record intact this year with a rally wide move. The outside bias was just starting to take place and from here on in, early speed was not going to hold. “Forever”, who beat Songbird earlier in the year, was coming off a 73 day layoff, and has now won races on 8 different race tracks. She is all race horse and they are thinking about taking on the boys in the Pegasus down at Gulfstream for their next start. Favorites Stellar Wind and Elate just didn’t fire, while Abel Tasman ran a gallant race once again and for a moment, looked like a winner in mid stretch. She came up just a half length short at the wire. Then in the Dirt Mile Friday, Battle of Midway also enjoyed a rally wide winning trip and getting the best of a very game Sharp Azteca in deep stretch. It was a great race for both runners and “Midway” lit up the tote board at $30.40 while jockey Flavian Prat was winning four on the day. He is just a three year old and was third in the Kentucky Derby at 40/1. He likes this track and they added some small cup blinkers on him two starts ago to help him focus. He’s a different horse now and they will probably try the seven furlong Malibu stakes on opening day at Santa Anita, Dec. 26 for his next start. 7/8 will be in his wheelhouse. Mor Spirit went off as the 2/1 choice, got bumped at the start, then rushed up and had nothing to offer as he ran 8th in a dismal effort. He had 7 consecutive gate works coming into the race to try and get him interested in racing, but he still wasn’t interested.

•    Bias or no bias, Saturday had some great racing. Local trainer Peter Miller won two Cup races, both sprints, by taking the six furlong dirt with Roy H at $11.80 and the five furlong turf with Stormy Liberal at $62.40. He lives just up the road in Encinitas. Roy H, one of the few horses we had on top for the day, got a perfect trip under Desormeaux and rallied wide with the bias. Drefong, the defending champ and the favorite, broke slow under Mike Smith and was never a factor in the race. This was one of two horses that Baffert thought would win Saturday, the other being Arrogate in the Classic, who also broke slowly under Smith and lost all chance. Of course both horses drew inside and the rail was dead all day. In the turf sprint, Stormy Liberal was coming off a five month layoff and Miller ran one two with Richard’s Boy running a huge race to be narrowly beaten. The same owner had all 3 horses, Gary Hartunian for Rockingham Ranch, and he’s been known to hit the windows quite often. We did have another winner on top in the Filly and Mare turf, as Wuheida got a perfect trip from just off the pace under William Buick, found the seam at the top of the lane, then just held off the late burst from Rhododendron at the wire. She returned $24.40 and was 20/1 on the morning line. Lady Eli lost a shoe in the race and had both hind legs cut up badly in her final race. If there was a perfect trip to be had and the right way to travel over this turf course, World Approval had it in the Turf Mile. He had enough speed to sit third early, then had enough stamina to kick on late and hold off the stretch runners. He went off as the 5/2 favorite under John Velasquez for trainer Mark Casse and he made no mistakes. With his almost white coat of hair, he reminded me of the great Vigors winning the Big Cap way back in the early seventies. Mark Glatt’s Blackjackcat, who dearly loves this oval, grabbed third with very long odds under Desormeaux. Then in the Juvenile Dirt, Bolt d’Oro never got it going as he went off as the 3 to 5 favorite under Nakatani. Coming out of the 11 hole he was 5 and 6 wide the entire trip, ran 200 yards further than any horse in the race, and finished a non impact third. The maiden, Good Magic, sat a perfect trip under Jose Ortiz, and won like a very good horse by four and a half lengths. If Chad Brown can keep this one healthy, he’s a major player for the Triple Crown next year as is “Bolt”, who had his share of excuses.

•    The Classic lived up to all the hype and Gun Runner proved without a doubt, he’s the best handicap horse in this Country and locked up Horse of the Year with his front running performance. Collected seemed to be the speed in the race and from his outside post, he figured to take the lead with Gun Runner tracking him. But the champ broke running and made the lead on his own and Collected felt good enough to sit second. The fractions were fairly fast yet the two front runners pulled away from the field at the ¼ pole and kept right on finding. Collected made one final gasp at the winner at the 1/16th pole, but Gun Runner still had another gear and pulled away to win by two. West Coast ran well to get third but was really a non factor in the race. This was the only wire to wire winner on the card and he had to overcome a double bias to get the job done, but that’s what the great ones do. Mike Smith broke Arrogate slow from the rail and he was never in the race. Although Baffert had 4 horses in the race, the two best riders in California, Prat and Bejarano, never had a mount in the Classic. Maybe Baffert might rethink that in the future, as Mike Smith broke both of his favorites slowly today (Drefong and Arrogate) and gave them no chance to win. Arrogate heads to the breeding shed in Kentucky for Juddmonte Farms and is just a shell of what he was a year ago. Many times those huge performances just “knock” a horse out and he is never the same again.

•     Racing resumes this Friday with just a three day week. There will be a c/o in the single ticket jackpot of the pick six of $30,000 plus from last Thursday. Two year olds are in the spotlight Saturday with Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes at 7 furlongs on the main track. Then on Sunday, they run the same distance in the Betty Grable stakes for older fillies and mares. I have no idea how the main track will play on Friday with four days of no racing. Caution is advised for the first few races to see how it plays out.

Turfdom News and Notes 

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