Del Mar's 79th summer season opening day was a very good one on the track for trainers Doug O'Neill and Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer and on-track, for Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper.
O'Neill won four of the first five races, to move within one of the track single-day record he set on July 29, 2015. And off-the-board results with six runners in the next four races did not, of course, affect O'Neill's unfailing enthusiasm.
“Just an incredible feeling,” O'Neill texted Wednesday night. “The energy was so high at Del Mar and our barn got some really great rides and lucky trips in some compact, large fields.
“I feel very grateful to have had four wins on such an amazing day!”
Hollendorfer saddled three winners. Seventy-five percent of the number O'Neill recorded on the day and 60 percent of the stable's win total during the entire 2017 summer meeting.
“We do the same amount of work whether we're 5-for-75 or 3-for-6,” said Hollendorfer's assistant trainer Dan Ward. “So things are looking up. If we can win two this weekend, we'll have won as many as we did all last year.”
Harper, who has experienced opening days since becoming a DMTC executive in 1977, expressed delight Thursday morning with the latest one. “Manageable crowd (33,112), amazing handle ($16,131,880 all-sources, up 14 percent from 2017) and a wonderful card put together by the racing office,” Harper said.
The handle was the second highest for an opening day behind the $16,500,914 of 2016. The 2016 opener was on a Friday.
“All in all, an excellent day,” Harper said.
A CLOSER LOOK FROM AN INSIDER: TEAM O'NEILL
Trainer Doug O'Neill's four victories on Wednesday were produced by Popular Kid ($8.20) in the first race, Jimmy Chila ($7.00) in the second, Dichotomy ($5.40) in the fourth and Ann Arbor Eddie ($20.00) in the fifth.
Rafael Bejarano got the ball rolling aboard Popular Kid in the first, Mario Gutierrez kept it going for the next three, with the most surprising being Ann Arbor Eddie (9-1), a 4-year-old gelding who hadn't won in over a year and was 0-for-9 with two third-place finishes in that stretch. Runner-up efforts at Santa Anita in May and early June led to a fourth-place finish, albeit with an improved Beyer speed figure, a month ago that made Wednesday's effort somewhat less surprising to Team O'Neill than it was to the bettors.
“We've been waiting for him to give us one good race like yesterday,” O'Neill assistant Leandro Mora said. “The last race he ran we were a little bit disappointed because we expected the type of race he ran yesterday.
“He's been working well, he's a good horse, and he finally got his way. And it was a great ride by Mario (Gutierrez). He rode three winners yesterday and he was all smiles, just like the rest of us.”
A CLOSER LOOK FROM AN INSIDER: TEAM HOLLENDORFER
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's three opening-day wins came with Eighty Three ($10.60), Shivermetimbers ($4.40) and Brill ($3.40), the latter as the 7-10 favorite making her racing debut in an event for 2-year-old fillies with a field rife with candidates for juvenile stakes in the near future.
A $1 million purchase at the Fasig-Tipton July sale last year, Brill came from off the pace to win by 1 1/4 lengths going away in a time of :57.86 for five furlongs, nearly two seconds faster than a similar event three races earlier.
Brill is short for brilliant.
“That's what the owner (Lawrence Best) said a long time ago before we knew she could run,” Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward said Thursday morning. “The thing about her is you could see in the paddock that she's very classy. Nothing bothers her and that's a big plus…
“When the bigger races, the stakes, come up, usually you've got a lot of horses that have gone wire-to-wire. You're looking for one that can set off the pace and she's already done that.
“She's really classy and nice to work with. Kind of reminds you of Songbird. She was the same way.”
Hollendorfer-trained Eclipse Award winner Unique Bella worked six furlongs Thursday morning in a bullet 1:11.80. Battle of Midway went five furlongs in :48.40 in his first work since returning to training after an unsuccessful career as a stallion.
Unique Bella is being targeted for the $300,000 Grade I Clement L. Hirsch on July 29. Being as early as he is in his racing return, Battle of Midway is unlikely to be ready to run during the meeting.
Brill may next be seen in the Grade I $300,000 Del Mar Debutante on September 1. Two-year-old colt Instagrand, an impressive recent debut winner, is being aimed for the $200,000 Grade II Best Pal on August 11.
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