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Sept 4 Del Mar News and Notes

Week seven is in the books at Del Mar and what a week it was. The Pacific Classic race on Saturday was something to behold as Flightline dominated a pretty good field with a breath taking performance in near record time for the distance. Overall handle was strong with $27.8 million being wagered on the card, the second highest total ever not counting a Breeders’ Cup day. Last year set the record at $36.02 million but they had a huge pick six c/o and the pool was in the neighborhood of $10.6 million. This year the total pool was just a tad over $2 million. However, on track attendance was on the small side at just 12,077, but that could have been due to the extremely warm temps throughout the entire west coast, especially in California. Overall, the main track played fair, but early speed became more dominant as they got near the weekend and the track did get a tad quicker. The turf course continues to favor off the pace runners in two turn route races with an occasional winner like Slow Down Andy going wire to wire in the Del Mar Derby on Saturday. The 5/8 turf sprints are now playing fair with just one week to go in the meet. The “chalk” is now rising to the top as favorites are coming through with big strides. Favorites won 8 out of 10 races on Labor Day and the two they didn’t win were won by the second choice in the wagering. The highest price on the 10 race program was $7.40 and these weren’t short fields. Through Monday, favorites are now at 36.8% overall, the main track at 39.2% and the turf at 33.6%. The Rainbow pick six pool starts over again on Friday at $55,028. The final three days of the meet are Friday through Sunday with a mandatory payout on the pick six set for Sunday.

STAKES RECAP: We’ll cover four of the graded stakes from Saturday along with a few others. The Pacific Classic was well worth the price of admission if you never wagered a dime on the races. Every once in 30,40, or 50 years a horse comes along that is such a dominant athlete, they simply take your breath away. And such is the case with Flightline. He dominates his races over his rivals like very few have been able to do in the history of the sport. He beat a good field on Saturday by 19 plus lengths and at no point in the race did Prat really ask him to run. He just has a high cruising speed and he makes it look so easy. Sadler has done a terrific job of getting him to relax early on in a race and he can go for the lead at any point in the race. His Beyer number came back at 126, the second highest figure ever given to a horse since they were doling out those numbers way back in 1991. He is the best horse I have seen on the race track since Spectacular Bid, and I have seen a few of them. Sadler will now sit on him until the Breeders’ Cup the first week in November back at Keeneland. He doesn’t need prep races like everyone else does. The question is, who will oppose him then? The eastern trainers respect him but they say they are not afraid of him. They will be after the Breeders’ Cup. He will toy with Olympiad, Epicenter, or anyone else who goes to the post against him. The only thing that could possibly beat him is if he can’t handle the Keeneland surface, but then again, the GREAT ones can run on anything.

There were three other graded stakes on Saturday and all three were on the grass. In the 11 furlong Del Mar Handicap for older runners, Flavien Prat secured one of his four wins on the day with a superb off the pace ride on Gold Phoenix for turf specialist Phil D’Amato. Following the favorite, Master Piece, down the back side, they both rallied down the lane and Prat got Phoenix up be a head at the wire. It was another half length back to Dicey Mo Chara who was also flying late. The winner paid $9.60, boosted his earnings up over $311,000, and is Breeders Cup eligible as this was a Win and You’re In for the B/C Turf. It was also D’Amato’s second stakes winner on the day. His runner Hong Kong Harry got the money in the Del Mar Mile, also ridden by Flavien Prat, with yet another ferocious stretch run pulling away late to win by two at the wire. Irideo ran well at 9/1 to get second, also coming from well back as Goliad set his usual fast pace with splits of 22.44 and 45.01 for the half. He had four on the field at the 3/8 pole but the quick tempo took its toll in the stretch as he faded to 4th. The winning time for the Mile was a quick 1:33.15. Hong Kong Harry is not nominated for the Cup and it would cost his owners $200,000 to enter at this stage of the year, so he will not be going to Kentucky. They will target the City of Hope Mile up at Arcadia in about a month. As mentioned earlier, Slow Down Andy did wire the field in the Del Mar Derby for Doug O’Neill and it was his 1st try on the grass after seven races on the main track. Mario Gutierrez, who reminds me of Kent Desormeaux (he can ride really well when he wants to), put up an excellent ride through fractions of 24.13 and 48.77 for the half and nursed him along and still had something left in the drive. He won by a half at the wire over a 60/1 shot and just when it looked like the winner would get swallowed up by the late runners at the 1/8 pole, he found another gear and hung on for a close decision. This one has always been very game on the main track and proved so on the grass as well. This one probably has to ship out of town now and he’s really not good enough to tackle anything in any of the Breeders’ Cup races.

On Sunday the feature race was the Grade 3 Green Flash Handicap at 5/8 on the grass for older runners and marked the return of Lieutenant Dan, a Cal bred who had an excellent year in 2021 and was 2nd in the B/C Turf Sprint. He was off as the 4/5 favorite in a field of 8 but had not been to the post in 10 months. It didn’t matter, he laid third down the back side ready to pounce at the 3/8 pole, and when a seam developed inside at the top of the lane, he zipped on through to win by a length and a quarter going away. The six year old was also the defending champ in this race from last year and this race was also a Win and You’re In for the Cup at Keeneland. Mandella’s Lane Way ran a good second with Coulthard closing fast to get third. Juan Hernandez was the winning rider and it was his 10th stakes score of the meet, far and away the leader in that category. Steve Miyadi was the winning trainer and has done an excellent job with this Cal bred son of the outstanding California sire Grazen. Then on Monday they ran the Generous Portion stakes for two year old Cal bred fillies at ¾ on the main. 8 went to the post and it was hard to separate many of them as most of them had dominant maiden victories. The public got it right and made Chismosa the 2/1 favorite and she did not disappoint. Under Los Al rider Edgar Payeras, she made a big move at the ¼ pole on the outside to easily clear the front runner, and went on to a two length score and become the first three time winner at the meet. She is now undefeated through three starts and this was her second Cal bred stakes victory. Nice job by low profile trainer Rafael DeLeon.

Two year olds hit the center stage in the final three days of the meet with five of the six stakes being for juveniles. It all starts on Friday with the I’m Smokin stakes at ¾ on the main for Cal breds. The ultra quick Kangaroo Court, who broke his maiden by 14 lengths along with Straighten Up, head up this field of 8 sprinters. Peter Miller has Giver Not a Taker also in the lineup, drew the friendly outside slot, and broke his maiden by eight in his debut. On Saturday there are three stakes headed up by the Grade 2 John C. Mabee stakes at 9 furlongs on the turf. The powerful D’Amato duo of Going Global and Going to Vegas, both already Grade 1 winners, head up the 11 nominations. It looks like six fillies will go to the post in the Del Mar Debutante at 7/8 on the main. Heading up the field is the undefeated Vegas Magic, already a stakes winner in three trips to the post. Baffert’s Home Cooking ran huge in her debut to win off by 9 and is a big contender if not the post time favorite. Satin Doll, Fast and Shiny, And Tell Me Nolies, and Arella Star round out the contention. Also on Saturday they will run the Juvenile Fillies Turf at one mile. On Sunday, the biggee is the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity at 7/8 on the main track. The ultra impressive Cave Rock, coming off a maiden victory with a 101 Beyer in his debut, will try and win this race for Baffert for a record 16th time. Baffert will also start maiden winners Newgate and Havnameltdown. Other contenders from the 15 nominees are Classical Cat, Arrowthegreat, Agency, and The Big Wam. And finally, with a whopping 30 nominations is the Del Mar Juvenile Turf with five Euros among the nominees. They should get a full field and then some for this one mile race.

How strong is the jockey colony in Southern California? Well, certainly not what it used to be. They ran 11 races on Saturday and two eastern riders came out and won six of the eleven. Prat won four and 50 year old Johnny Velasquez won two. By the way, Prat did so well being back home he is going to ride the final three days of the meet and is named on six horses for Friday. We out here in the West think that Del Mar is every bit as good as Saratoga in the summer, but when it comes to riders, it is no contest. Saratoga has the Ortiz brothers, Joel Rosario, Tyler Gaffalione, Velasquez, (who is way past his prime), along with Luis Saez, and Javier Castellano.  Anyone of those could come west and win a riding title. We have the very accomplished Juan Hernandez, who wouldn’t make the top five at Saratoga. After Prat and Velasquez left the scene here at Del Mar on Saturday, J.J. went out and won four on Monday. He is now 19 in front of Rispoli who only won one in the last two days. Ray Vasquez is still in third with 22 scores. With three days to go, the training title is really getting tight. I thought D’Amato would be a slam dunk but heading into Friday, Baffert and O’Neill are both in front with 17 wins while D’Amato is one back. With so many two year old races coming up this week, the high percentage Baffert just might get it done. He has half the starters that D’Amato and O’Neill have but as we have mentioned many times, there are no B and C horses in this barn. George Papaprodromou won three in the last two days and is now in 4th with 14 victories. Other trainers having an outstanding Del Mar meet are Jonathan Wong with 13 wins and a win percentage of 22%, Nor Cal sensation Andy Mathis, who also won three the last two days to give him 12 for the meet and a win percentage of 31%. And then there is Dean Pederson, who only has 11 runners in his barn, has started 12 at the meet, and has won with 8 of them. How good is that?

by Rod Young (Turfdom)

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