Weather was not a friend to horse racing last weekend.
Eastern tracks Parx, Laurel Park, Delaware Park, Finger Lakes and even Saratoga announced cancellations of their Saturday cards 24 to 48 hours ahead of the predicted severe heat and humidity. Activist groups called for cancellations and threatened those tracks who dared to run.
Noteworthy among those tracks which did run Saturday was Gulfstream Park, which is located in South Florida where it has been hot and humid for over a month. Gulfstream is owned by The Stronach Group (TSG), who made a point about safety this past winter and spring at their sister track Santa Anita when there was a spike in catastrophic injuries.
Monmouth Park’s biggest race of the summer, the $1 million Haskell Invitational, was part of a Stakes filled Saturday with national television exposure and a return of the disqualified winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby — Maximum Security — as the headliner. Monmouth also decided to run as scheduled with a first post time of noon.
After a delay of nearly 40 minutes, Monmouth ran its opener without incident. After a slight delay behind the starting gate, they ran their second race, again without incident. Shortly after, it was announced that the remaining non-Stakes races on the scheduled 14 race card would be cancelled, and the remaining six Stakes races, including the Haskell, would be run. The first of those Stakes races — the Grade III Oceanport — would be run at 6 p.m. ET, nearly five hours after the announcement.
The top older filly or mare in the country, Midnight Bisou, won the Grade III Molly Pitcher Stakes midway through the abbreviated card to remain undefeated in 2019. Jeff Bloom, the Managing Director of Bloom Racing, co-owners of Midnight Bisou, said the weather was not as excessive as expected.
“We were told the Stakes races would be run no matter what.” Bloom said. “There was some confusion and conflicting info. It appeared when the horses were behind the gate for the second race that there were decisions being made at that time. It was hot, but we have raced safely under similar conditions many times before.”
Bloom, a former jockey, believed that the races could have been conducted as originally scheduled if needed. Mike Smith, the jockey aboard Midnight Bisou, echoed the same sentiments. Both said they had raced safely on days when the weather was more severe than on Saturday at Monmouth.
When finally run at 8:12 pm, Maximum Security put himself back in the hunt for three-year-old championship honors with a game win over Mucho Gusto. Maximum Security had to withstand another inquiry for a bumping incident with King for a Day on the far turn, but unlike the Kentucky Derby, there was no change and he was declared the official winner.
The loser was Monmouth Park. In the best interests of safety while also trying to appease special interests, handle on Haskell day decreased by over 36 percent from 2018, while the announced attendance was down by over 32 percent. There were far fewer people than the announced 25,173 left at the track when the Haskell was finally run.
Del Mar off to safe start
Del Mar was blessed with beautiful weather for their opening week, with temperatures in the mid-70’s and a cool ocean breeze each day. The main track and turf course were in good shape, and the racing was safe throughout the week.
Unfortunately, there was one training accident.
Last Thursday morning, an unraced two-year-old named Charge a Brunch, trained by Carla Gaines, wheeled while preparing to work and dropped jockey Giovanni Franco, who rolled under the inner rail. Charge a Brunch took off in the wrong direction and ran head on into a three-year-old Maiden named Carson Valley, who was working in a team drill for trainer Bob Baffert. Jockey Assael Espinoza was aboard.
Both horses died instantly from the impact. Franco was uninjured, while Espinoza suffered a slight back sprain. After taking off two days due to soreness, he returned on Sunday to just miss on his only mount of the day.
All safety protocols were properly followed and the accident occurred during the period when only horses working out for official times are allowed on the track in order to keep traffic to a minimum.
This type of accident is extremely rare. In fact I can’t remember the last time a similar incident occurred. Unfortunately, no matter how many safety rules and procedures are put in place, accidents happen, just like on the freeway a short distance from the track.
It has been going on for some time, but as the big stables continue to grow, there is less and less competition for them, making for smaller fields in Stakes races and Maiden Special Weight races with heavily bet favorites that offer little wagering appeal for horseplayers.
The Grade III Lake George Stakes at Saratoga last Friday is a perfect example. The seven-horse field was cut down to three with the scratches of Espresso Shot, Stillwater Cove, The Mackem Bullet and Winter Sunset.
Who was left? Winner Regal Glory, trained by Chad Brown. Runner-up Blowout, trained by Chad Brown. And third-place finisher Dogtag, trained by Chad Brown.
Wasn’t there another filly or mare in New York willing to try to pick up a Graded Stakes placing against the Brown juggernaut? Apparently not, and that is not a good thing for the industry.
Out west, there is a new purse bonus of 25 percent offered to stables with less than 50 horses who run in two-year-old Maiden Special Weight races on dirt. This bonus appears to be designed to find enough horses willing to take on the vast group of expensive juveniles in the Baffert shedrow.
Baffert won at a 47 percent clip with juvenile first-timers during the 2018 Del Mar summer meet. Baffert figures to hit at a high rate again this year, if there is enough competition to get the races to fill.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Del Mar Thursday race six — Marjorie E (No. 4). Trained by Paddy Gallagher, she has had two starts on the comeback trail and now gets a jockey upgrade to excellent turf rider Drayden Van Dyke while returning to the course where she has earned both lifetime wins. She could be set for her best and her 8-1 morning line odds are very attractive.
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