Turf racing can be a dicey proposition this time of year on the East Coast, which is why the Turf Festival at Del Mar held during Thanksgiving week has become such a popular destination for top Eastern stables.
Despite difficulties traveling during the coronavirus pandemic, several stables from New York and Kentucky have made the trip. The result are fields deep in quantity and quality, creating a series of great wagering opportunities.
The one downside? No fans allowed. Let’s take a closer look at several of the Stakes races already drawn.
Red Carpet Stakes
The 11-furlong Red Carpet Stakes kicks off the Turf Festival Thanksgiving Day. Trainer Chad Brown is well known for his prowess with top filly and mare turf specialists, and while Orglandes did not arrive with the reputation of some other imports, she has adapted well to U.S. racing, most recently posting an easy win at Belmont Park in October. She was a marathon specialist in France, so the longer trip of the Red Carpet is right in her comfort zone.
The three-year-old filly California Kook faces elders in the Red Carpet, but the Peter Miller trainee ran well vs. the boys in the Del Mar Derby during the summer meet and has always looked like a filly crying out for more distance. She could be a factor here.
Blame Debbie ships in from Kentucky on a three-race winning streak that has corresponded with blinkers on and stretching out to longer distances. The Graham Motion trainee has tactical speed in a race lacking much early pace. He is an excellent conditioner who can ship in and win.
Hollywood Turf Cup
A full field of 12 will go in the Hollywood Turf Cup, and the shippers appear to be catching a mediocre group of local runners. Arklow, trained by Brad Cox, may be the one to beat.
Arklow split the Breeders’ Cup Turf field at the same 1 1/2-mile trip as the Hollywood Gold Cup after winning the Kentucky Cup at the same distance in his previous start. He appears to have come to life after being fitted with blinkers, and Joel Rosario is in from New York for the mount.
Say the Word won the Grade I Northern Dancer at Woodbine in October and has shipped from Canada to join the Phil D’Amato stable. Say the Word is in career form and should be flying late.
German-bred Laccario ran on late to be second in the Gr. I Turf Classic at Belmont Park in his U.S. debut and could help lead a sweep of the top three spots for the shippers.
German-bred Laccario ran on late to be second in the Gr. I Turf Classic at Belmont Park in his U.S. debut and could help lead a sweep of the top three spots for the shippers. Can Abel Cedillo be caught? 🔥— Del Mar Racetrack (@DelMarRacing) November 24, 2020
He leads the @torreyholistics leaderboard with 1️⃣8️⃣ but some familiar faces have been blazing up the standings.
Leaderboard ▶️ https://t.co/9wraBbNrv0 pic.twitter.com/GCBT9Uxodc
The best card of racing in Southern California this year is capped off by the Grade I Hollywood Derby Saturday. The question that must be answered in the Hollywood Derby is whether Gufo can overcome his extreme outside post in the 13-horse field.
Gufo, trained by Christophe Clement, was upset by Domestic Spending in the Saratoga Derby during the summer, but made amends in the Belmont Derby in October. He has top local turf rider Flavien Prat aboard to try and work out the right trip.
Smooth Like Strait is the most dangerous of the local runners, having won the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita at the same nine-furlong distance as the Hollywood Derby. He is also a multiple Graded Stakes winner on the Del Mar turf and his tactical speed and inside post give jockey Umberto Rispoli lots of options.
Domestic Spending, from the Chad Brown stable, is lightly-raced and comes into the race fresh making his first start since winning the Saratoga Derby in August.
Winter tracks open
Tampa Bay Downs, a favorite winter racing signal, opens Wednesday. Winter turf racing and important Kentucky Derby preps like the Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb. 6 and the Tampa Bay Derby March 6 are highlights for horseplayers. Owners and trainers will be sure to support the Tampa entry box since they kept many stables in action when the pandemic began in March.
The Fair Grounds in New Orleans also kicks off their winter meet Wednesday, though as of Tuesday it was unknown if the signal will be available to racebooks in Nevada. Parent company Churchill Downs Incorporated still has no agreement to provide their content to the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association.
One change in the Fair Grounds wagering menu – the Pick Five will no longer include the jackpot Black Gold format but will instead be a regular Pick Five. The negative is the 25 percent takeout rate on the wager.
Farewell to Calder
Gulfstream Park West, more commonly known as Calder to horseplayers of a certain age, will close their doors for good when the meet comes to an end this weekend.
In order for Churchill Downs to keep the slot machines open at the facility, there must be a live wagering product available for a required number of days. Instead of racing, Jai Alai will be offered.