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Del Mar Pre Opening Day News and Notes

The best racing in California is about to start in just 10 days and it just may be the best racing in all of North America. It only lasts for 8 weeks but it doesnít get any better than what Del Mar has to offer, especially this year with the highest purse structure ever offered in the Golden State in over 88 years of thoroughbred horse racing. Thatís because their Ship and Win program is so successful in luring horses to this track from out of state. Maiden allowance runners can actually be running for as much as a $140,000 purse with all of the extra incentives Del Mar puts forth. Throw in the best weather all around† in the country and itís no wonder their motto is ďDel Mar, as Cool as Ever.Ē Owners and trainers want to win a race at Del Mar like no other track. I have often seen $40,000 claimers run for $20,000, just to win the race, even though they know well in advance their horse will be taken at the claim box. A Win Circle photo at Del Mar is priceless. And the Management team at Del Mar is second to none. It all starts at the top under CEO Joe Harper and travels all the way to the concessioners and the ticket sellers. Everyone greets you with a smile and treats you like a real customer. They even get an abundance of young people, who have no idea how to read a racing form, but they know that Del Mar is the place to be. Hopefully some of the millennial will get addicted to the sport and become lifelong fans. Trainers come down from Northern California, rent a house for the entire 8 weeks, enter their horses, knowing well in advance they have little chance of winning. All because Management welcomes them with open arms and treats them right. Del Mar has had crowds as much as 47,000 in the past for Opening Day, but this year they are limiting the total to about 22,000, which is already SOLD OUT. They do this so the everyday fan will have an enjoyable day at the track and not have to wait in ungoldly long lines to buy a beer, go to the bathroom, or get a wager down. At Del Mar, the owners, the trainers, and even the fans come first and by the way, for the last three years, itís also the SAFEST race track in the country for our equine stars.

The jockey colony in Southern California has become the weakest this past year that I can ever remember. Riders such as Rafael Bejarano and most recently Flavien Prat have left the Golden State to ply their trades on the east coast. However, that may change this summer at Del Mar. One of the top riders in the country, Florent Geroux, will ride all 8 weeks of the meet and will be received with ďopen armsĒ by most of the conditioners at this track. A strong rider in Northern California, Armando Ayuso, will also be trying Del Mar for the first time ever. He was third at the Golden Gate Fields meet with 72 winners this past year and is a quality rider. He has seen the success of other Nor Cal riders who have transitioned themselves to this circuit, such as Juan Hernandez, Ricky Gonzalez, and Abel Cedillo. With Prat gone, Hernandez has inherited the role of leading rider and deservedly so. J.J. has all the tools and is equally effective turf or dirt, long and short. Umberto Rispoli is now back as well after giving Kentucky a try where he really struggled for decent mounts. Umberto may just be the best grass rider here and rides the Del Mar course better than anyone in my opinion. He will get many a first call for the strong Phil DíAmato barn who is just loaded with turf runners for this meet. The TRIP is everything in grass racing, especially at this track with large fields and a short stretch. Rispoli likes to sit mid pack on the rail, wait for room at the ľ pole, and then swing out when a seam develops at the top of the lane. Of course, it doesnít always develop which is why the best horse in the race doesnít always win on the turf course. But Rispoli consistently does it better than the rest of the athletes in the jockís room. And then there is Kent Desormeaux, who is trying to make yet another comeback at the age of 52. He and his agent have requested a meeting with the stewards on July 29 to be reinstated for the remainder of the meet. Kent was suspended and banned from all 1st Racing tracks in the country back on March 4 when he was arrested for domestic abuse and battery charges in his home state of Louisiana. He has had a history of alcohol related issues that has plagued his career for years. Even if the stews allow him to ride, he is not the same rider he once was. He reminds me of Patrick Valenzuela, who was given so many chances throughout his drug related career. Another rider, who is also 50 plus in years, that I predict will have a strong meet is Joe Bravo. Bravo is a very strong finisher on the turf and his style is to lay back early, well off the pace, and circle the field for the stretch drive. If there is enough early pace in the race, he is effective. If not, he doesnít hit the board. But in two turn races on this course, that style is extremely effective. Bravo will win his share, often at very good mutuels.

On the training side, Baffert is BACK. He has served his 90 day suspension and is loaded with a strong . string of two year olds as usual, most of which will race at this meet. He started two horses at Los Alamitos this past week and won with both of them, one a maiden special weight and the other a stakes, the Los Alamitos Derby. The majority of his owners have come back to him with their horses. Itís always tough to lose such a talented animal as Life is Good to Todd Pletcher, as he may be the best miler in the country, but his stable will be as strong as ever this meet. For the first time in a long time, high percentage trainer Robert Diodoro will send between 15 to 20 head to this track from the Midwest. From the New Mexico/Texas circuit, Todd Fincher is planning on sending 12 head to Del Mar whereas he had just five last summer. Smash Ticket, who broke her maiden by five at Del Mar last summer will be one of the dozen and she is coming off an 11 length score in an allowance race recently at Lone Star. Her half sister, Slammed, is also headed for Del Mar and this 4 year old is a 5 times stakes winner. She will fit in nicely where the turf meets the surf. And there will be many more trainers taking advantage of the lucrative Ship and Win program who have not committed as of July 11.†

For the first time in an awfully long time, there is a 12 day gap in thoroughbred racing in July on this circuit. Los Alamitos closed on July 10 and Del Mar will open on July 22. There has been no turf racing in Southern California since June 19. The entry box should be loaded for racing secretary David Jerkins for the first few weeks of the meet, especially on the lawn. In the past few years, the main track has favored rally wide closers the first two weeks of the meet. Drawing outside in the sprints has been a clear advantage. On the turf course, in two turn races, stretch runners have had the best of it for the first three weeks, until the course has some wear to it. All the turf sprints are at five furlongs and early speed is the strongest weapon to possess. All in all, this should be an outstanding meet of thoroughbred horse racing, and one you donít want to miss out on. We at Turfdom look forward to a very strong meet, as we have done our best with selections for this track in the past.

by Rod Young (Turfdom)

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