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Sept 14 News and Notes Los Alamitos

You can have your Saratoga with all its history and nostalgia, you have your Keeneland with all its beauty and big purses, and you can have your Kentucky Downs with all of its exclusive turf racing, but nobody, and I mean nobody can put on a better performance than what Del Mar did for their 2022 summer season. I donít know where to start with all of the superlatives, but I will try. For three straight years, Del Mar has been the safest track in the nation for horse racing, but how can you top this past season which ended on Sunday. They had 294 races, mostly with full fields which totaled 2688 starters, and not a single horse had to be euthanized on the track or the turf course. That number alone is unbelieveable. Horses are extremely fragile animals. They can get hurt in their stalls doing practically nothing. They can hurt themselves playing in an open pasture, yet put a jockey on their backs, ask them to run 40 MPH against 11 other horses, and nobody gets hurt? Thatís some awfully good safety measures that are in place and the credit for that goes beyond just Del Mar. It started with Santa Anita management three years ago and was well supported with the California Horse Racing Board. And then thereís the large fields. Del Mar averaged 9.14 horses per race for 294 races and raced four days per week. Thatís as high as any track in the country and full fields means more players wanting to play, and play they did. Average daily handle was $18.69 million, an all time record at this track, and thatís without any large pick six carryovers. On track attendance was up 16% vs. last year. The Ship and Win program brought in 222 new horses from out of state, the best ever since they started the program. Many of those horses will stay and race at Los Alamitos, Santa Anita, and Del Marís fall meets. And from a wagering standpoint, there was something for everybody. If you are a ďchalkĒ player, the overall win percentage for favorites was 35.7%, above the national average. If you are a long shot player, the pick fives on closing day paid over $34,000 for the early one and over $25,000 for the late one, and thatís for a 50 cent wager. Two weeks ago someone hit the Rainbow pick six for $471,000 for a 20 cent wager. And then there was the performance of Flightline in the Pacific Classic, winning off by 19 lengths and geared down the final 100 yards. He could have won by 25 if Prat wanted him to. And those werenít $12,500 claimers behind him. They were multiple Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners. How many times in your life do you see a horse return to the winners circle and everybody, and I mean everybody on the premises give him a standing ovation?† Throw in that beautiful San Diego weather and those cool ocean breezes, and itís just a shame that the 83rd summer season has to come to a close. But we do get four more weeks here beginning Nov. 11 and I for one will be counting the days. †

STAKES RECAP: Weíll cover the four weekend stakes which were all for two year olds on closing weekend. On Saturday both of the stakes were won by long shots, one where there was a jockey error and the other by a jockey who just plain rode aggressively. The former was the Grade 1 Debutante for fillies at 7/8 on the main. Home Cooking came into the race as the 7-10 favorite for Baffert and was simply the best horse in the field. Mike Smith was aboard the favorite and had the perfect outside post. However, Smith allowed to make a move with his filly at the 3/8 pole and quickly opened up three on the field. It was a very premature move for a horse trying 7 furlongs for the first time. She still looked like a winner at the 1/8 pole but then she started to tire late and ďAnd Tell Me Nolies came and got her in the final jumps. Baffert was back in Kentucky at a yearling sale but Iím sure he watched the race on TV. It was a real bone head move by the 56 year old Smith. After the race he said that the horse ran off with him on the back side, but thatís why they have jockeys on these horses, is to control them. Iím sure Baffert wasnít too happy with this ride and when you have riders like Hernandez, Prat, and Johnny V looking for mounts, how he ends up with Smith is beyond me. I donít think he makes that mistake again. It was four lengths back to the third horse in this race which was Ice Dancing, who is still a maiden. On the other hand, give credit to Vasquez and the winner, who never stopped trying and gutted out the victory to pay $21.60. In the other graded stakes Saturday, the Grade 2 John C. Mabee stakes for older fillies and mares, trainer Phil DíAmato had the two best fillies in the race with Going Global and Going to Vegas. He also had the two best turf riders in town for both of these distaffers in Rispoli and Prat. The other five runners in the race looked completely outclassed and it was reflected in the tote board, with Global going off at 1-2 and Vegas at 9/5. No other horse in the race had single digit odds. Park Avenue set the pace as expected and she gave it up a bit early at the 3/8 pole. Juan Hernandez was on the winner, Avenue de France, and he made a bold move on her at the 3/8 pole to go from fifth to first in the blink of an eyelash. But to J.J.ís credit, he knew he had no chance to beat the two favorites unless he did something different and a bit daring. He quickly opened up three on the field and as soon as he made the move, Rispoli on Going Global followed him and was second by the ľ pole. At the top of the stretch, it still looked like Global could catch the winner, but J.J. was all out on the winner, and she still had another gear. She gamely held off the favorite winning by a half at the wire. Going to Vegas checked in third but was really no factor in the race. The winner paid $23.80 and once again the lesser horse won the race with the aggressiveness of the rider, which is one of the reasons he is the leading rider. DíAmato felt that Rispoli fell asleep with Global, but I didnít see it that way. Just as soon as the winner went by the favorite, he quickly was in attack mode as well, and followed the winner around the field. Avenue de France just had too much horse in the drive and Going Global had to settle for second.

The two stakes on Sunday were identical to the two on Saturday, only these were for colts as the Saturday races were for fillies. The Grade 1 Futurity was at seven furlongs on the main and Cave Rock went off as the heavy 2-5 choice for Baffert, a race that he has won 15 times in the past, which is of course, a record. Cave Rock had an impressive debut, earned a 101 Beyer, and won off in impressive fashion four weeks ago. This time under leading rider Juan Hernandez, he went right to the front again through wicked fractions of 21.56 and 43.65 for the half. Granted the track was playing quite ďfastĒ but thatís not the formula to win races at seven furlongs. At the top of the stretch, his barn mate, Havnameltdown, came at him and looked like a contender in the stretch, but the favorite had another gear and pulled away to win by five at the wire. He looked so good galloping out and the way he ran the final quarter mile, 8 to 10 furlongs looks well within his scope. Skinner rallied for third at 12/1 but he was four lengths in the rear of Havnameltdown in this field of eight. The time of 1:20.99 established a new stakes record for the 7 furlongs that had stood since 2004. Cave Rock is the REAL DEAL and if Baffert can hold him together in one piece, heís a very serious Triple Crown player in 2023. He reminds me a lot of Authentic a few years back who won the Run for the Roses. The owners of Cave Rock are the trio of Pegram, Watson, and Weitman and they also own the runner up. They also were the leading owners of the meet with 9 victories. The other stakes race on the program was the Grade 3 Juvenile Turf and a whopping 14 horses went to the post. This was the toughest race of the meet to handicap as so many of these were coming off maiden wins, some sprinting, some routing, some on the turf, and some on the main track. Yet the winner won off by four open lengths and paid $18.00 and looked like he could run all day. His name was Packs a Wahlop and he certainly lived up to his name. He had shown speed coming off a turf sprint so you knew he would be up near the pace stretching out. He did get a well timed ride from Mike Smith, who I had chastised so bad for his ride on Saturday in the Debutante. By the way, Smith won three on the day and finished with the highest win percentage of any jock in the top 15, so I guess the 56 year old† Hall of Famer can still ride some. Valiancer finished second coming from far back in the pack while Dandy Man Shines ran third. Jeff Mullins was the winning trainer and he trained the third place finisher as well. The winner is headed to Keeneland for the Breedersí Cup Juvenile Turf. †

Juan Hernandez won two on Sunday and easily won the riding title at 49 victories, 22 more than Umberto Rispoli, who rode the turf course so good day after day. Ramon Vasquez very quietly finished third with 24 victories which was only three behind Rispoli. Iím sure that J.J. is glad that Flavien Prat went back east to ride. Prat came out here for the Pacific Classic to ride Flightline and won four on that day. Then he stayed for the weekend because New York was having a one week break following the closing of Saratoga. He won three on Friday, three more on Saturday, and then two on Sunday to give 12 for the meet and he tied for ninth in the standings and only rode four days. Hector Berrios, a newcomer from Gulfstream, finished 4th with 18 wins and rode the turf course almost as good as Rispoli. I donít know if heís going to stick around or head back east. The training title went down to the final race on the program Sunday. Going into the final day, Phil DíAmato had 19 wins, Bob Baffert had 18, and Peter Miller and Doug OíNeill both had 17. By some strange coincidence, all four trainers had 7 horses in the entries for Sunday. Out of those 28 horses, they had only one win, and that was with Baffert and Cave Rock in the Futurity. So, Baffert and DíAmato tied for the title with 19 each. We mentioned last week that Dean Pedersen had 8 winners at the meet from just 12 starters. Then two trainers from Northern California also had outstanding meets. Jonathan Wong finished 7th in the standings with 13 wins and Andy Mathis finished tied for 8th with 12 wins. Mathis had the highest win percentage of any trainer in the top 15 at 29%.

Thank you for taking the time to read our News and Notes for the Del Mar meet. We are off until Sept. 30 when Santa Anita opens their doors for their six week fall meet. As Jonathan Hardoon of the Ragozin sheets would so often say, ďstay well and be safeĒ.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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