Del Mar Odyssey: Notes From Opening Week

by | 07.24.2018 | 4:26pm

The first of seven weeks of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club's summer meeting is in the books and here's a quick review of some of the activities from the perspective of someone who's been coming to the seaside oval for 40 years.

Safety First
Opening day – and all of opening week for that matter – presented safe racing. No horses suffered catastrophic injuries after the first 45 races and just one  – Shy Carmelita – was vanned off after being pulled up after the finish line of a turf race on Saturday. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club management and the California Horse Racing Board put the safety of horses and jockeys as their top priority, and getting through opening day especially without any incidents was extremely important to them.

As pointed out recently at the eighth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in Lexington, Ky., the CHRB began a program of identifying and monitoring “at risk” horses – those who fit in a category (i.e., long layoff or coming off the vet's list) more prone to injury – that contributed to a 35 percent decline in fatalities. This has been a particular problem for Del Mar, which has had equine fatalities scrutinized by both local media and animal welfare groups in years past. Injuries have been and always will be an unfortunate part of the game, but it's critical the industry does all it can to protect the equine and human athletes, and the “at-risk” model for monitoring California horses is a program that can be put to use elsewhere.

Sadly, the week did not end without tragedy. As was widely reported, the Peter Miller-trained Grade 2 stakes winner Bobby Abu Dhabi, suffered what presumably was a fatal cardiac event nearing the end of a workout on Sunday morning under jockey Victor Espinoza. The Hall of Fame rider will miss time in the saddle because of a fractured vertebra suffered when the horse suddenly collapsed but Espinoza is expected to fully recover. These fatalities are extremely rare events, but they do happen. The CHRB pioneered a program of post-mortem examinations for fatalities at all licensed racing and training facilities in the state, in part to better understand what happened in a specific case and also to help reduce future incidents.

Baby Races
Lawrence Best spent $1-million on Brill, a 2-year-old filly by Medaglia d'Oro, at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton July Yearling Sale – topping the auction by a huge margin. Bred by Southern Equine Stables and consigned by Bluewater Sales, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained filly carried Best's red and white OXO Equine silks to an impressive victory in an opening day maiden race for 2-year-old fillies. After bobbling at the start under Drayden Van Dyke, the filly (produced from the Malibu Moon mare Hung the Moon) moved into contention quickly and won by 1 1/4 lengths in :57.86 for five furlongs. There was a lot of buzz about Brill going into this contest  and she did nothing to disappoint.

Three days later, Hollendorfer and Best unleashed another promising juvenile in Rowayton – a 2-year-colt by Into Mischief purchased for $320,000 from Gainesway at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Yearling Sale. Like Brill heavily favored in the betting, Rowayton (apparently named for a coastal village in Connectictut by New Englander Best) was prominent early and never seriously threatened during her 1 3/4-length victory, covering 5 furlongs in :58.61. She failed to switch leads down the stretch under Van Dyke or likely would have won by more.

These two Del Mar winners, along with Instagrand – a $1.2-million Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-old colt by Into Mischief who was a10 ½-length maiden race winner at Los Alamitos – give Best's OXO Equine a strong hand as the juvenile racing season begins to heat up.

The two winners also helped put Hall of Fame trainer Hollendorfer and jockey Van Dyke at the top of their respective standings after week one. Hollendorfer was tied for first with Doug O'Neill after saddling seven winners from 17 starters (O'Neill, who won four races on opening day to Hollendorfer's three, won seven from 30 starters for the week). Van Dyke won with six of 19 mounts, one more than defending riding champ Flavien Prat. Hollendorfer has rebounded nicely from a sub-par 2017 summer meeting when he won just five races from 80 starts.

At the other end of the spectrum is Richard Baltas, who was tied for leading training with Phil D'Amato in 2017 with 18 wins and 20 seconds from 110 starts. His opening week was 0-for-19 with one second. His meet can only get better.

One more juvenile note: Hall of Famer Bob Baffert rolled out his first Del Mar 2-year-old winner on Sunday when Mother Mother, a daughter of Pioneerof the Nile purchased from VanMeter-Gentry by George Bolton for $450,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale, rolled to a flawless 6 1/2-length victory in 1:10.78 for six furlongs.  Baffert has been touting Roadster, a Quality Road colt purchased from Stone Farm by Speedway Stables for $525,000 at the Keeneland September sale, as a 2-year-old colt from his barn to watch. He's had a steady string of workouts and could be ready for a race before long.

Paulick vs. Schrupp on TVG
Throughout the Del Mar meeting, I'll be going head to head with TVG's Todd Schrupp in a handicapping contest for charity. Each Saturday, Todd and I will make a mythical $20 win, place and show wager on any horse on the Saturday card. Whoever has the largest bankroll at the end of the meeting wins $1,000 for the charity of their choice (I've selected California's aftercare funding organization, CARMA, while Todd has selected Susan G. Komen in memory of Shantel Lanerie, wife of jockey Corey Lanerie who died recently from breast cancer).

The loser will also have to “Sing With Bing” from the winner's circle on closing weekend of the meeting.

After week one, Schrupp leads $80 to $36 after his choice in Saturday's third race, Conqueror, finished second and paid $5 to place and $3 to show. My pick, Vexatious, finished third in Saturday's sixth race for a show payoff of $3.60.

To help spare the closing weekend crowd from hearing my off-key rendition of “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” (and to get $1,000 for CARMA), please handicap each Saturday's Del Mar card and send me your best bet ([email protected]).

I can use all the help I can get.

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