DEL MAR RIDES WITH THE TIMES FOR 75th RACING SEASON
Times and people change, but things of quality endure. And in a year of change on the Southern California racing circuit, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club aims to continue its well-established reputation for sun, fun and quality of racing when the 75th summer season “Where The Turf Meets The Surf” begins Thursday (July 17). First post is 2 p.m. Gates open at 11:30 a.m. Opening day, with its fabulous hat contest and other traditional trappings, has drawn upwards of 40,000 fans 10 of the past 11 years. A track record 47,339 came out for opening day in 2012 and 43,030 made the scene in 2013. The traditional opening day-feature, being run for the 69th time, is the Oceanside Stakes, a one-mile test over the Jimmy Durante Turf Course for 3-year-olds with a $100,000-added purse. A field of 13 has been entered for the Oceanside, which will be the first stakes event run on a Jimmy Durante Turf course widened to 80 feet over the winter to accommodate 14 horse-fields. Undefeated (2-for-2) Majestic Kitten, a gelded son of Kitten’s Joy trained by Dave Hofmans to be ridden by Alonso Quinonez, steps up to the stakes level in the Oceanside. Argyle Cut and Home School, the 2-3 finishers in the Singletary Stakes at Santa Anita on June 21, also figure prominently.
The closing of Hollywood Park last December necessitated changes in the Southern California racing calendar. Santa Anita Park operated its usual winter meeting and added another spring/summer session which ended June 30. Los Alamitos completed an eight-day meeting Sunday. And for the first time in 15 years, and only the second time in 33 years, Del Mar will open on a Thursday instead of the traditional Wednesday. Other Del Mar changes, immediately and on the horizon: A turf course widened in preparation to hosting the Breeders’ Cup in 2017; A 16-day fall meeting to be run November 7-30; Plans to convert the main track racing surface from Polytrack to dirt for the 2015 summer meeting. Combining the familiar and the new, virtually across the board, supports notions of another successful meet in 2014. Rafael Bejarano, seeking a third straight Del Mar riding title, is scheduled to make an opening-day comeback after being sidelined for two months with injuries incurred in a spill at Santa Anita. Joe Talamo, riding champion at Santa Anita and runner-up at Los Alamitos, will aim to build on that momentum after finishing second to Bejarano in 2012 and fifth in 2013 at Del Mar. Hall of Famers Mike Smith and Kent Desormeaux, who have 10 Triple Crown and 21 Breeders’ Cup race victories between them, grace the riding colony. Desormeaux, a three-time Del Mar riding champion, recently returned to the West Coast after a few years in the East. Past Del Mar champions Victor Espinoza and Corey Nakatani add to the depth of riders, as do new-to-Del Mar veterans Stewart Elliott and Elvis Trujillo. Youth is represented by 19-year-old Drayden Van Dyke, who claimed the riding title at Los Alamitos and will be seeking to enhance a bid for an Eclipse award in the apprentice jockey category.
Trainer John Sadler looks to defend a 2013 Del Mar title that was his second straight and fourth since 2008. Doug O’Neill, Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer and Peter Miller, the order of pursuit behind Sadler in 2013, all have stable depth sufficient for a title and all but Hollendorfer have won in the past. Mark Casse, Michael Stidham and Phil Oliver, established trainers in the east, have sent multi-horse contingents for the first time to Del Mar, in part enticed by a “Ship and Win” bonus program that offers incentives for runners whose last race was outside the state of California. The meeting’s signature race, the $1 million Pacific Classic, will be run Sunday, August 24. Game On Dude is expected to defend his championship and compete in the event for the fourth year in a row. Majestic Harbor, who upset Game On Dude in last month’s Santa Anita Gold Cup, figures prominently among a large group of challengers that could include unbeaten Shared Belief, Frac Daddy and Dance With Fate.