At Del Mar, not business as usual

Aug 7, 2018 3:00 AM

The third week of the Del Mar summer meet is now in the books, and it was not business as usual down by the beach. With all due respect to Clint Eastwood, here is some of the good, bad, and ugly from last week. Cue the music.

First the good

Trainer Jack Carava had been winless since March 29, a span of 66 starts, before he saddled Majestic Authority to win the finale last Friday. Good guy Carava went immediately to the hot trainer list when he came right back with his next starter, Conquest Typhoon, on Saturday.

Conquest Typhoon was one of the horses forced to be released to run wild while fleeing the San Luis Rey Downs fire last December. His connections located him once the fire storm passed, luckily no worse for wear. Another San Luis Rey Downs survivor, Tap the Wire, made it back-to-back wins for the survivors on Saturday winning the Graduation Stakes while providing trainer Daniel Dunham with his first lifetime Stakes win at Del Mar.

Jockey Drayden Van Dyke’s business continues to grow. Last Saturday Van Dyke won both the Grade II Yellow Ribbon Stakes (on Cambodia) and the Graduation Stakes (aboard Tap the Wire) to give him four Del Mar Stakes victories so far. Just as important, Van Dyke has already been aboard impressive 2-year-old Maiden winning juveniles Instagrand, Mother Mother, Rowayton, and Brill. He added Sigalert and Der Lu to that list of top 2-year-old Maiden winners last weekend, so Van Dyke figures to be loaded for the 2-year-old Stakes programs throughout the summer and fall.

Next – the bad

Retired California-bred champion Lava Man, now a pony for trainer Doug O’Neill, suffered a serious bout of colic last week that required surgery. Happy to report the surgery went well and 17-year-old Lava Man will soon be released and sent to a local farm for some recuperation time before rejoining the O’Neill barn. The tough old boy still has a lot of fight in him.

Depending on how you look at it as a horseplayer, the following information can be considered good or bad. So far at the Del Mar meet, favorites are winning at an above average 35.8 percent clip through Sunday. Favorites are an amazing 38-for-82 (46.3 percent) on dirt, while favorites are just 9-for-49 (18.3 percent) on turf.

And now the ugly

In Saturday’s finale, apprentice Assael Espinoza moved Aussie Fox toward the inside rail entering the stretch before they had proper clearance, forcing Irish Spring and jockey Corey Nakatani to clip heels and take a nasty fall. Bitter Ring Home with jockey Giovanni Franco could not avoid the fallen horse and went right over the top.

Both jockeys were taken off the course on support boards and transported by ambulance to a local hospital. Bitter Ring Home galloped around the track loose after the incident and was caught, but Irish Spring died in the accident.

Franco suffered a high foot bruise but was back working horses Sunday morning and was able to return to the saddle Sunday afternoon (he won Sunday’s finale aboard Johnny Strong). Nakatani spent Saturday night in the hospital and was released Sunday afternoon. He reportedly will need back surgery due to a herniated disc and a narrowing of the spine. Nakatani will see a specialist in Los Angeles this week and the timetable for his return is uncertain.

Apprentice Assael Espinoza was handed a 10-day suspension for causing the incident. This apprentice rides a clean race for the most part and did go to the hospital Saturday evening to check on his colleagues. It was a lesson learned the hard way. His 10-day vacation starts this Sunday.

Updating the Del Mar track bias: Again on last Friday’s twilight card the inside lanes on the dirt were where you wanted to be. 

However, unlike the previous two weeks, the strong outside bias on the main track did not come back over the weekend. It looks like the track bias situation may finally be leveling off after three weeks of racing. The turf course also seems to be playing fair to all styles now.

There is a Pick Six carryover of $91,748, a single ticket Pick Six jackpot carryover of $40,149, and a Super High Five carryover of $32,111 going into the Wednesday card when racing resumes at Del Mar.

Yearling sale season starts Monday: For those looking at the economic indicators for horse racing, the first high-end yearling sale of 2018 kicked off at Saratoga Monday evening featuring the first crop of yearlings by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. It would be no surprise to see some of the top yearlings in the sale bring seven figures Monday and Tuesday evening.

Top Play: Del Mar, Wednesday, Race 4, Pray for Corday (post 10). There was a strong outside bias opening week and horses that took the worse of that bias may offer value when they return. 

Pray for Corday got buried dueling on the pace from the slow rail July 25. She moves from the inside to the outside and may still offer some tote value. Now is the time to take our shot.