Del Mar never lacks for dramatics

Jul 24, 2018 3:00 AM

As usual, it was never a dull moment during opening week at Del Mar. Here is a recap and some information that may help horseplayers now that the meet is in full swing.

Trainers Doug O’Neill (7-for-30) and Jerry Hollendorfer (7-for-17) dominated opening week, winning a combined 14 races. Both are loaded with 2-year-olds, with the Hollendorfer juvenile first-time starters/winners Brill and Rowayton likely to be major players in the 2-year-old Stakes at the meet. Mix in the abundance of claimers, grass horses, and Stakes horses in each barn and O’Neill and Hollendorfer figure to be battling for leading trainer throughout the meet.

The Del Mar track surfaces played different from recent years. The turf course, when the rail settings are at their normal zero position, has favored closers early in the meet in years past. Opening week saw turf horses with early and tactical speed dominate proceedings.

The rails on the turf move to the outermost 30 foot settings this week, which in the past has helped early speed. Let’s see if this change enhances or changes the bias on the turf.

The dirt course had a definite outside flow for the most part. Horses that were able to stalk and pounce from the outside had all the best of it. The public seemed to figure out the trend, as there were 17 winning favorites from 27 dirt races (62.9%) opening week. Keep notes as to which horses were compromised the most racing along the dead rail last week. They may pay dividends later in the meet.

A sharp horseplayer figured out the trends sooner than most. On Sunday, someone took down the Pick Six and the jackpot carryover for a total of over $119K. The ticket structure? Three “singles” – Swing Thoughts ($7.00) in Race 5, Mother Mother ($3.20) in Race 7, and If You Like It ($6.00) in Race 9 – all on dirt where favorites have dominated. The bettor used “All” in the three turf races and caught Kentan Road ($150.00) in Race 4, Double Touch ($60.80) in Race 6, and Catapult ($44.00) in Race 8. A true example that how you structure your tickets is just as important as the ability to pick winners.

It was a tough opening week for many of the veteran jockeys. Among those who struggled – Corey Nakatani (0-for-13), Gary Stevens (1-for-16), Kent Desormeaux (1-for-21), Stewart Elliot (1-for-20), and Joe Talamo (1-for-24). It is noteworthy that these solid riders do not ride many for the O’Neill and Hollendofer stables.

Jockey Victor Espinoza suffered a fracture of the C-3 vertebrae in his neck and numbness in his left arm from a stinger when a horse he was working Sunday morning – Stakes winner Bobby Abu Dhabi – had a cardiac event near the end of the work and died. Espinoza spent Sunday night in the hospital and is out indefinitely. Sunday afternoon his agent Brian Beach reported Espinoza has had some of the numbness in his arm subside and there is no paralysis. Beach said, “Doctors are optimistic he’ll recover fairly quickly.”

Del Mar Notes: Field size was very strong opening week. The 18 turf races had an average of 11.33 horses per race, while the 27 dirt races averaged 8.44 horses per race. Total average horses per race opening week was an outstanding 9.6. As a result, handle was up over 8 percent and attendance was up 9 percent over opening week of the 2017 summer meet.

It is great to see Del Mar has completely renovated the track kitchen on the backstretch. The previous kitchen was condemned just prior to the summer meet last year. The backstretch employees deserve good food and a clean environment and Del Mar has delivered this summer.

Another positive note:  Very happy to report that the elevators worked for the entire week!

There were some blips on the screen, too.

On opening day, when the horses for the first race came out on the track, the familiar “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” song sung by founder Bing Crosby could not be heard over the public address system, at least from my position in the press box. It was very strange to not hear the familiar tune to help set the tone for opening day.

The training track was closed on Sunday morning after it was flooded Saturday night when someone left the water running.

The wood chips used for many years on the walking path in the saddling paddock have been replaced by rubber pavers. There was more than one delay in the paddock opening week for shoe repairs and it appears the new surface is part of the problem. Saturday morning the Del Mar maintenance crew filled in the gaps between the pavers with sand to try and level the surface.

Play of the Week: Del Mar, Wednesday, race 1 – Robin’s Love (post 7). Filly beat softer under wraps at Del Mar last Thursday. She is wheeled back in six days, draws the preferred outside post, and when horses show a liking for Del Mar they tend to string good races together. She could quickly become the first multiple winner at the meet.