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Nov 23 News and Notes Del Mar

Del Mar completed their third week of racing in their four week fall meet this past Sunday and the main track continues to play fair from a pace stand point, but the outside lanes were dominant all three days this past week. The turf course played fair as the rails were out 18 feet all three days. Del Mar is definitely saving their best for last with four days of racing this coming week and their Turf Festival, which features a graded stakes on each of the four days, all on the lawn, and a total of seven highlighted by two Grade ones over the weekend. Racing will start this Thursday with an early post of 11 AM for the Thanksgiving Day card with 8 races on tap. After three weeks of racing favorites overall are winning at a 33% clip; 40% on the main track and 28.5% on the turf. On the final race Sunday, jockey Juan Hernandez caught Prat for the lead in the rider standings at 12 apiece. Of course Prat spent the week on suspension and was only allowed one mount, which he of course won as the winning rider. In the same race, Phil D’Amato was the winning trainer and he caught Baffert for the lead at 8 apiece. The Rainbow pick six amount is up to $418,673 for any single ticket winner and there is a strong chance the pool will grow until Sunday, when there will be a mandatory payout.

STAKES RECAP: They ran two stakes over the weekend and both were on the main track. On Saturday, they ran the Grade 3 Native Diver stakes at 9 furlongs and six ended up going to the post after two late scratches. Eight Rings was made the odds on choice after chasing Life is Good around the track two weeks earlier in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, and he sat a comfortable third Saturday chasing his stable mate Ax Man down the back side. He went to the lead at the ¼ pole but the winner, another Baffert runner named Azul Coast, was just starting to unwind on the outside and the two of them went at it at the 1/8 pole. Azul outfinished Eight Rings but then was all out to hold off a late run from Kiss Today Goodbye. The winner, a Turfdom Best Bet on the day paid $8.60 and won by a half over “Kiss”. Azul was ridden by Flavien Prat and was his only mount on the day as he was serving a 3 day suspension but was allowed to ride a graded stakes. This was Azul’s 4th win in 10 starts but his first graded stakes and upped his earnings to $221,280. On Sunday 7 went to the post at 7 furlongs on the main in the Cal Bred Cary Grant stakes for 3 and up. In a wide open contest, Principe Carlo rode the strong outside bias that was prevalent all week long to a narrow nose decision over a very game Positivity. The winner paid $39.00 as the longest price in the field and gave Kent Desormeaux his second win on the day. He also rode two winners on Saturday and the 53 year old is riding with a lot of confidence these days. This was the first stakes win ever for trainer Librado Barocio, who claimed this horse and then gave him a year off. This was his second start off the layoff and boosted his career earnings to $367,543. Positivity, who ended up being the 2/1 favorite, lost a heartbreaker right on the wire by the slimmest of noses. And Colt Fiction was just another neck back. None Above the Law, off at 5/2, got bogged down on the inside and never could get off the fence. He finished 4th and could have been right there with a better trip. He ran better than looked and will be tough next time out wherever Miller decides to place him, or Alvarado, as Miller is leaving the sport as a trainer for at least six months after this meet concludes (more on that later in this column).

STAKES THIS WEEK: Only five horses are scheduled to go to the post on Thanksgiving Day in the Grade 3 Red Carpet with the three locals facing off against two shippers at 11 furlongs on the grass. Luck missed by a head in a Grade 1 in his last start and with Prat back aboard is probably the one to beat. One of the shippers, Nicest, only has a maiden win, but looks like a true stayer and will appreciate firm footing. Rispoli has the mount. On Friday, the feature will be the Hollywood Turf Cup, a Grade 2, at a mile and a half on the lawn. Seven will go to the post and trainer Phil D’Amato has two of them in Say the Word and Acclimate, both multiple graded stakes winners. But watch out for a shipper named Rockemperor who won a Grade 1 two starts back at Belmont at this very same distance. Chad Brown is the trainer and Prat rides. That combo clicks at 37% together.

On Saturday, they have three graded stakes including the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby worth $400,000. The Derby will have a large field and will be headed up by Public Sector for Chad Brown who won this race last year. Irad Ortiz will be coming west and has the mount. John Velasquez also will be out to ride the local Lincoln Hawk, while others expecting to run will be Beyond Brilliant, Cathkin Peak, Flashiest, Hudson Ridge, Santin, Subconcious, Team Merchants, Zoffarelli, Camp Hope, and It Can Be Done. Also on Saturday will be the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap for older runners on the lawn at a mile and a sixteenth. Chad Brown will have two runners in here, Flop Shot and Sacred Life and the Ortiz brothers will have those two mounts. The locals will counter with Bob and Jackie, Lambeau, Majestic Eagle, Neptune’s Storm, and North County Guy. Velasquez has the mount on Bob and Jackie. Then two year old fillies line up for the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante stakes at a mile on the grass and there will be a number of shippers present in this race as well. Sparkle Blue will run for Graham Motion and Reem Zabeel for Anna Meah. Other entries, which will be drawn on Wednesday are expected to be, Dendera, Awake at Midnight, Helens Wells, Liam’s Dove, Mamajoon, Miss Bellatrix, Toeris, Tonito’s, and Virulente.

On Sunday, the big one is the Grade 1 Matriarch for older fillies and mares at one mile and is also worth $400,000. Chad Brown, who also won this race last year will ship in with Regal Glory, who just ran second in a Grade 1 at Keeneland. Jose Ortiz has the mount. Zofelle and Princess Grace, who both ran in the Breeders’ Cup, second and third behind Going Global, remained here for this race. Others expected for the Matriarch will be Bodhicitta, Mucho Unusual, Tapwater, and the Cal bred, Warren’s Showtime. Also on closing day, the Grade 3 Cecil B. DeMille stakes for two year olds will be run at a mile on the turf. That man Chad Brown will once again be represented, this time with Verbal, a recent debut winner at Belmont. Others expected to run will be Barsabas, Boise, Degree of Risk, Astronomer, Derecho Dandy, Elevado, Get Back Goldie, Groovy Huey, and Optimising. Most of these graded stakes will have good sized fields and the opportunity for some good prices.

The big news this past week was that trainer Peter Miller is taking a temporary hiatus from the sport to spend more time with his family, focus on his health, and pursue other interests. Of course, there is always more to the story, even though Miller says there is no hidden agenda. Miller has his principle home in Encinitas and trains at nearby San Luis Rey Downs and often ships his horses right from there and into races at Santa Anita, Del Mar, and Los Alamitos. San Luis Rey Downs is owned by 1st Racing, i.e. the Stronach Group, and just recently one of his horses broke down while in training there and had to be euthanized. It was the sixth fatality in the last 12 months for any Peter Miller trained horse, which is double more than any other trainer in the state. That puts Miller on very shaky ground as that is the number of fatalities that Jerry Hollendorfer had back in 2019 when he was banned from both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields by the Stronach Group from running what they said was an unsafe stable. Miller might just be smart enough to leave the game now before he is forced out by 1st Racing, who legally have the right to do so, as they have proven with Hollendorfer, who continues to fight this ban through the legal process but so far, to no avail. Miller is a top trainer on this circuit and horses do improve by leaps and bounds once they hit his barn, but that can be for many various reasons. He has had some class 4 violations against him but nothing serious, although he does live on the edge so to speak. When you train a stable of over 100 horses, the stress of winning and maintaining a high percentage can be enormous. As Miller states often, training is a 24/7 lifestyle with zero days off, 365 days per year. That takes its toll on many a trainer and often they turn to alcohol or drugs just to get through the week. It’s unfortunate that companies that own the tracks have so much power that they can ruin a career just like that, but they have proven that they can. I for one believe in Miller, and stand by him and hope that he gets through this unscathed, but I doubt that he will. His assistant, Ruben Alvarado, will take over the stable effective November 29. He is very capable but he’s not Miller, and some owners may be looking to go elsewhere, which is what happened with Hollendorfer and Ellis. But Miller says he will stay involved and will still manage the barn, but just not at the track. He is also an owner of many horses as well. Miller often takes his horses back east, as do other trainers from time to time, and that I’m sure doesn’t sit well with the 1st Racing people, as they struggle to fill race cards at their six month meet. It’s one thing to ship east for a stakes race but quite different when you send 15-20 horses to the Oaklawn meet in Arkansas. We will keep you posted on our thoughts as this all unfolds.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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