Beautiful ladies in sun dresses and floppy hats. Guys wearing everything from bow ties to shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and flip flops. As the old Bing Crosby song says, “A smile on every face, and a winner in each race, where the turf meets the surf at Del Mar.”
For horseplayers, it means opportunity.
Huge pools with plenty of tourist dollars mean potential scores around each corner. The key is being prepared to take advantage. Here are a few tips that could prove helpful.
When betting the turf races at Del Mar, it is important to know where the inner rails are placed. Early speed is much more effective when the temporary rails are in their outer settings than when the rail is at the normal position. With help from Scott Shapiro of Bloodstock Research, percentages of front-running winners on the turf over the last three years are shown in the box at top right.
With the rails at their normal zero setting the first couple of days, don’t be surprised to see winners rallying from off the pace on the grass.
Trainers to Watch
Below are some trainers known for saving their best for Del Mar:
Peter Miller. He is a local Encinitas resident and loves winning at Del Mar more than anywhere on the circuit. Last year he kept his first string at his San Luis Rey Downs home base and got off to an unusually slow (for him) start at the Del Mar summer meet. Look for most Peter Miller-trained entrants to get a work over the Del Mar surface before they run this time around.
Victoria Oliver. Based in Kentucky, Oliver brings a live string of turf horses to Del Mar each summer. She is 4-for-14 over the last few years at Del Mar, and each winner has paid 6/1 or more.
Doug O’Neill. One of the O’Neill barn clients is Great Friends Stable, a partnership headed by a San Diego sports radio station. They claim and privately buy horses specifically for the Del Mar meeting and are not afraid to drop horses to win. The Great Friends Stable are partners in three horses racing on opening day alone – Popular Kid and Preacher Roe in Wednesday’s first race and Lucky Staxx in Wednesday’s third race. O’Neill is also loaded with 2-year-olds.
Bob Baffert. Horseplayers will be keeping a close eye as trainer Bob Baffert debuts most of his top juveniles at this summer meet. One tip – the Baffert stable over the last two years has been much more active and effective with their 2-year-olds the second half of the meet rather than the first half.
Jockeys to Watch
Being the leading rider at Del Mar is a coveted title. Flavien Prat is the defending champion, and he comes in fresh after doing some riding in New York during the Los Alamitos meet and his business should be very good. Others jockeys to watch this summer include:
Giovanni Franco. He established himself on the Southern California circuit when runner-up to Prat at the Santa Anita spring meet. He missed the Los Alamitos meet due to a sore knee, but is ready to return and may help offer tote value as he may not be as familiar to San Diego racing fans.
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Asa Espinoza. The nephew of Triple Crown winning jockey Victor Espinoza won the last race at Los Alamitos on Sunday to tie fellow apprentice Heriberto Figueroa for leading rider there and looks good on a horse. He is my pick to be the leading apprentice at Del Mar.
Drayden Van Dyke. With the emphasis on turf racing at Del Mar, Van Dyke’s proven ability on the grass and his recent success with trainer Bob Baffert suggest he will have a big summer.
In addition to having a Place Pick All wager that is not offered at Santa Anita or Los Alamitos, Del Mar has added an early $.50 Pick Four on races 2-5 and a late $.50 Pick Five on the last five races each day. Del Mar has also added win, place, and show parlay wagering.
An important bonus to the new late Pick Five: If you have the only winning ticket, Del Mar will “bonus” the winning player a $500,000 guaranteed payout any weekday and $1 million any weekend day. This is different from the “jackpot” pools like the Pick Six since there is no withholding from players to fund the bonus. Del Mar will simply add extra monies to meet the bonus guarantee should a single ticket take down the pool.
Strike Opening Day?
Last Friday, the Pari-Mutuel Employees Guild voted to go on strike. The union’s contract ends on Tuesday, so at press time there is a real possibility the windows at Del Mar on opening day could be manned by non-union workers and other machines could be turned into self-serve.
There was a meeting scheduled on Monday between Del Mar and the union, so here’s hoping a resolution can be reached before opening day.
If not, if you are coming out to Del Mar opening day and have an Advance Deposit Wagering account you may want to fund it and have your phone app ready for action.
Play of the Week
Wednesday, Race 3 at Del Mar – Gonna Fly Now (3). He gets a major rider switch to Bejarano and will be dead fit shortening up from a route. The Baltas/Bejarano jockey/trainer combo was deadly at one time. Beware.