Del Mar’s final week of its fall racing season – starting on Thanksgiving Day and running through Sunday, November 29 – will offer topnotch racing spiced by an impressive number of high-line stakes horses shipping in from around the country in quest of nearly $1.5-million in purses.
Seven major stakes, including a pair of Grade I turf tests, will make the holiday week especially noteworthy for Southern California racing fans. First post on Thanksgiving Day has been set at 11 a.m., while the remaining three cards on the weekend go off at 12:30 p.m.
Del Mar’s racing personnel – headed by executive vice president Tom Robbins, racing secretary David Jerkens, assistant racing secretary Zachary Soto and stakes coordinator Chris Merz – have been trading multiple phone calls, e-mails and texts with some of the nation’s top trainers as arrangements have been finalized to bring horses in for the various stakes offerings. Their handiwork has enabled them to link up a strong local contingent of Southern California stakes horses with a collection of invaders that hasn’t often been matched in these parts.
Triggering the holiday agenda on Thursday is the $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, a Grade II headliner for 3-year-olds and up that is contested at the demanding distance of a mile and one half. Among the 10 runners considered likely for the marathon are The Pizza Man, a stakes winner of 15 races – including the 2015 Arlington Million -- and more than $1.7 million who finished third in this race last year. Trainer Roger Brueggeman will ship in his long-winded gelding from Kentucky, where he was last seen finished fifth in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf. Also on board for the Hollywood Turf Cup is Up With the Birds, another millionaire ($1.1 million) who trainer H. Graham Motion will bring from the east coast.
On Friday (November 27), the featured attraction is the $250,000 Seabiscuit Handicap, also for 3-year-olds and up and run at a mile and one-sixteenth on the lawn. The Grade II test has drawn 23 nominations, including Seek Again, a 5-year-old homebred who races out of trainer Bill Mott’s powerful east coast stable.
Saturday’s nine-race program will feature three stakes, starting with the Grade III, $100,000 Jimmy Durante for 2-year-old fillies at a mile on the turf. New York-based trainer John Terranova is bringing in English-bred Enjoy Yourself for the race, which is projected to be contested by a full field of 14. If that holds true, it would be a first for the seaside track. Prior to last year’s total renovation and expansion of the turf course, Del Mar could run no more than 12 horses in a grass race. The new course is capable of safely holding 14 runners and it appears the Durante could be the race that christens the Jimmy Durante Turf Course with its first totally “full” field.
Also on the Saturday card is the $150,000 Native Diver Stakes, a Grade III test at nine furlongs on the main track, and the $300,000 Hollywood Derby for 3-year-olds at nine furlongs on the green. That Grade I headliner also is likely to attract a full field of 14, four of them from the highly successful barn of New York turf specialist Chad Brown. The young trainer, who knows Del Mar after having learned the conditioning ropes as an assistant to the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, is planning on shipping in Fundamental, Money Multiplier, March and Offering Plan.
Other out-of-towners also eyeing the Hollywood Derby are horses from the Mott barn (Closing Bell), the Jeremy Noseda barn (Mister Brightside) and the Pavel Matejka barn (One Go All Go).
Sunday’s closing-day program will be highlighted by a pair of graded stakes – the Grade III, $100,000 Cecil B. DeMille for 2-year-olds at a mile on the turf and the Grade I, $300,000 Matriarch for fillies and mares, aged 3 and up, also at a mile on the grass.
Among those likely for the DeMille is eastern trainer Gary Contessa’s Manhattan Dan. Also likely for the lineup is Tusk, another runner out of the Motion barn.
The Matriarch, whose rich history dates back 35 years, has lured a half-dozen distaff aces from the barns of five eastern-based conditioners. Trainer Mott will saddle Filimbi, trainer Brown has Olorda, trainer Christophe Clement will bring a pair in Hard Not To Like and Stellar Path, trainer James Toner will enter Recepta and conditioner Victoria Oliver is sending She’s Not Here. The last-named filly was a double winner at Del Mar’s summer meet this year, including a triumph in the Grade II Yellow Ribbon Stakes.
Last year’s closing week stakes played a key role in the Eclipse Award voting when trainer Art Sherman chose to enter his charge California Chrome in the Hollywood Derby after the flashy chestnut colt had won two legs of the Triple Crown and five stakes all told earlier in the year. Voting for the Horse of the Year title was considered close, but “Chrome’s” victory in the Hollywood Derby was seen as the key to putting him over the top en route to/ the nation’s foremost racing prize.
Del Mar’s 20-day fall season is the second it has conducted since the closing of Hollywood Park in Los Angeles in 2013. The 2014 session went for 15 days. In addition to its summer meeting, which is scheduled to run for 39 days next year between Friday, July 15 and Monday, September 5, the track will present its third fall season for 16 days between Thursday, November 10 and Sunday, December 4.