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Handicapping News and Notes December 4

•    The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club concluded their four week fall meet on Sunday with two dynamite race cards which had full fields and plenty of quality. But the two days prior to the weekend were not good at all, as rain hit the fall meet for the first time since 2015 and 24 scratches over Thursday and Friday led to small fields and no turf racing. The turf course was in good enough shape to use for Friday but with two important Grade 1 races to run over the weekend, management decided not to use the course. Hence a meet that was heading for pretty good numbers for field size dropped off considerably with the 24 scratches on Thursday and Friday. But the weekends racing was outstanding and the Grade 1’s did not disappoint with exciting finishes in both races. The full fields led to some very nice payoffs as the late pick five on Saturday paid more than $31,000 for a 50 cent wager and paid more than $60,000 on Sunday. And nobody hit the pick six on the final day so they paid out for 5 winners at more than $22,000. None of the winners either day were real difficult to find, it’s the full fields that made the payoffs so strong. Racing now moves to Los Alamitos up in Orange County for two weeks, then an 8 day break prior to Christmas, and then the long six month Santa Anita winter/spring meet which opens as always on December 26. We will be taking a break at Turfdom with our selections until Santa Anita’s opening day.

•    As mentioned earlier, the two Grade 1’s over the weekend were both outstanding races and were the only stakes races ran this past week. The same rider won both of the races (Joel Rosario), the same trainer trained both the horses (Chad Brown), and both winners were Turfdom Best Bets each day. Raging Bull won the Hollywood Derby on Saturday at 9 furlongs on the grass with a strong stretch run to beat out a very game River Boyne by a half length. The “Bull” was 7/2 on the morning line but was bet down to 9/5 and paid $5.80 to win. River Boyne was the M/L favorite and went off as the second choice at 5/2 in a field of 12. The winner was the third winner on the day for Rosario, who plans on riding at Santa Anita this winter before Keeneland opens their spring meet. Sunday’s win by Rosario in the Matriarch stakes was even more dramatic as he came from 20 lengths back, Silky Sullivan style, to get up in the final jumps with Uni, a horse that paid $13.20 to win in a 13 horse field. In both races, Rosario felt he was on the best horse, so he stayed wide all the way, circled the field from the 3/8 pole to the wire while going five and six wide. In each race he timed his move perfectly to get up at the wire. Uni ran the final quarter in the Matriarch in a sizzling 22.48. The Matriarch was for older fillies/mares at a mile on the turf and Vasilika, who was gunning for her 9th straight win went off as the 2/1 wagering choice. She finished a close 4th under Flavian Prat but didn’t have her usual strong kick in the lane. Of course Prat had her much nearer to the pace for one thing than the winner, and then chose to race inside down the lane while the others were well out in the middle of the course, where the footing was no doubt a tad better due to the recent rains. Uni was purchased for just $44,000 in England at a yearling sale and has now won almost $900K in just 14 starts. Just another day at the office for trainer Chad Brown, who is head and shoulders the best turf trainer in the country.

•    Jockey Victor Espinoza was in the winners circle on Saturday to present the trophy for the winning connections of the Hollywood Derby. It’s the first time he has been to the track since a training accident on July 22 when he was thrown hard to the ground during a workout on the stakes winner Bobby Abu Dhabi, who suffered fatal injuries. Espinoza looked fit as a fiddle and figures to be back riding on a regular basis by mid January at Santa Anita. Espinoza is 46 years old and has won 3358 races in his career along with three Kentucky Derbys. He was the regular rider for Triple Crown winner Amercian Pharoah and two time Horse of the Year, California Chrome.

•    The axe continues to fall at the Great Race Place as they fired their racing secretary this past week. Rick Hammerle had been at the job since 2003 and had done a fine job filling races with minimal horse inventory the past five years. Tim Ritvo, who is in charge of the California race tracks for the Stronach Group was not available for comment and no replacement has been named. There is no condition book out for the track yet which opens in just 23 days. The prior week they let Michael Wrona go as the track announcer, who is the best in the business. And earlier in November they reorganized their on-air and production personnel with a number of layoffs in their simulcast division. The times they are- a –changin.

•    For all who read this column, we wish you a safe and healthy holiday season. We will be back with another News and Notes column on December 26 along with our selections which can be found on our web site at OR at Thank You.

Rod Young, Turfdom.

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