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DEL MAR 2011: Opening Day

Where The Turf Meets The Surf

Today begins the 2011 meet at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in Southern California.  Since it's first year of racing in 1937, Del Mar has been the one of the most popular summer racing meets in the United States, along with it's East Coast counterpart - Saratoga.

This year's Del Mar meet will run from July 20th until September 7th, and will feature eight Grade 1 stakes races, including the TVG Pacific Classic on August 28th.

Below is a look at some of the races at Del Mar on the first day of the 2011 meeting.  You can also find a list of the scheduled stakes races for the meet at the end of the post.

Race 1: OC40K/N1X, 3up, 1 Mile (Polytrack)

The first few races of any meet can always be a bit challenging given the relative unknown nature of the track conditions. The fact that we are presented with a two-turn race on the main track makes the situation all the more fascinating as the main track at Del Mar has been a graveyard for speed since the changeover to Polytrack. 

263 Polytrack Routes
52 (20%): Leading after ½ mile
54 (21%): Within 2.0 lengths after ½ mile
157 (60%): More than 2.0 lengths back after ½ mile

We've got a decent sample size of two-turn Polytrack races at Del Mar after four years (263) and the trend is strikingly clear: horses that sit off the pace in the early stages win a majority of these types of races. 

With the track profile in mind, speed is going to have to be really, really good to get any action from my direction (or very alone).  I'm also looking for horses that have demonstrated an ability to run well over a synthetic surface in the past, preferably a Polytrack either at Del Mar, or someplace else.

6-Kettle Corn (5/1) will run for John Sadler for the first time after shipping in from Chicago where he finished 1st and 2nd in his two tries over the Arlington Park Poly. This colt also won a couple of races on the dirt at Hawthorne this winter, but his races over the Polytrack were much, much better than his wins on dirt.  A son of Candy Ride (ARG) (a sire that has been excellent with synthetic runners), Kettle Corn fits in nicely with this group and is attractive from a morning line odds standpoint.

Race 2: $25k Claiming N2L, 3up, 1 1/16 (Turf)

The first turf race of the meet features older conditioned claimers (always a fun class) some of which are sporting some fairly awful results over the length of their careers.  8-Battle School (2/1) appears the best of the bunch after holding his own against $32K conditioned and $32k open claimers at Hollywood Park in his last two. In both of those races the Doug O'Neill trainee sported very nice middle ½-mile moves (46.79 and 47.48) but couldn't quite get up for the score at the wire. This race appears to offer a bit of class relief which might be enough to put him on top at the end.

Bejarano will ride Battle School for the first time, taking over for Garrett Gomez.

Race 3: $12.5k Claiming, 3yo, 6 ½ (Poly)

Unlike two-turn races, sprints at Del Mar over the Polytrack have been very fair over the past four years with an almost perfect distribution of winners from the front, middle and back of the pack.  Horses more than 2.0 lengths back after a ½ mile still win more than the other groups (38%), so the success of speed is not as strong as it is at someplace like Santa Anita (or even Hollywood). But horses can and will win on the lead. 

792 Polytrack Sprints
239 (30%): Leading after a ½ mile
256 (32%): Within 2.0 lengths after a ½ mile
297 (38%): More than 2.0 lengths back after ½ mile

A horse like 6-Regroup (5/1) appears to fit in with this group based on his races at Hollywood and Santa Anita this winter and spring, but when you look at his two tries over the Del Mar surface last summer (8/29 and 8/12) you get the impression that this colt doesn't care much for the Polytrack.  It's possible that his failures over the surface had more to do with immaturity than surface preference, but I tend not to care for horses that have shown zero ability to run over a particular track.

2-Unbridled Score (20/1) is another horse in this field that hasn't shown a lick of interest when running on Polytrack at Del Mar. 

4-Giuseppe G(8/1) is a Washington-bred shipper from Emerald Downs trained by Vann Belvoir who will try synthetic for the first time.  It's tough to know how this horse will handle the Poly since he's never so much as touched a synthetic surface in his young brief career.  His form at Emerald this spring has been decent, although he threw in a real clunker back on June 5th when he lost by 17 ½ lengths against OC $25k/N1X competition. 

Race 8: Oceanside Stakes, 3yo, 1 Mile (Turf)

The traditional feature race on opening day at Del Mar is the Oceanside Stakes at one mile on the turf course.  The race is open to three-year-old "non-winners of a sweepstakes of $50,000".

3-Mr. Commons (5/2) dabbled with the Triple Crown events this spring, running 3rd in the Santa Anita Derby followed by an 8th place finish in the Preakness in mid-May.  John Shirrefffs is apparently ready to put him back on the grass where this son of Artie Schiller might be a little more comfortable. 

4-Fort Hastings (IRE) ships to Del Mar following a dull race at Chantilly in France and decent effort against Group 3 company in Germany.  He won three straight to begin his career when in France, Switzerland, and Germany, but he hasn't displayed a ton of class over in Europe and it's difficult to visualize how he fits in with this group. 

8-Extensive (3/1) comes into this race after running 3rd to Wilcox Inn and Suntracer in the Arlington Classic in late May.  Wilcox Inn and Suntracer came back to run 1-2 in the G2-American Derby on July 9th, a result that flatters the 3rdd place finish by Extensive. 

Prior to running 3rd in the Arlington Classic, Extensive finished 3rd in a $50k/OC event at one mile over the Gulfstream Park turf course; the 2nd place finisher that day was Animal Kingdom. And in the second race of his career, a Maiden Special on the grass at Tampa, he was a runner-up to Brilliant Speed, a colt that went on to win the Blue Grass this spring.

Race 9: $16k Claiming, 3up, 1 Mile (Poly)

Another two-turn route race on opening day, and another chance to see if the main track will play to off-the-pace runners as it has the last four years.

2-Indy Ride (5/1) comes into this race off a nice score at Hollywood in his last effort against $16k N2L competition.  He'll face a sterner class test against open company but at least he rolls in with good form.

4-Whirling Thunder (3/1) is taking a huge price cut following a 7th place finish at Keeneland against $50k claimers this spring.  He ran three times over the Keeneland Polytrack and was decent, if unspectacular, each time.  Additionally, in all three of those KEE efforts the winners came back to win their next races. 

Mike Mitchell takes over for Wesley Ward.  Over the last five years, Mike Mitchell is 28-for116 with horses making the first start after a trainer change (25%, $2.56 $2 ROI).

10-North Folk (6/1) has been off since last October and drew a poor post with the ten-spot in a one mile race, but he's an intriguing prospect given his sterling form at Del Mar when going 8 furlongs (3-for-3).  The question is: will he be ready to fire a strong effort from a tough post first time off the bench?

Del Mar 2011 Stakes Calendar

Date Race Name Grade Age/Sex Dist. Surf.
7/20/11 Oceanside Stakes 3yo 8.0 Turf
7/22/11 CTBA Stakes 2yo, f (CA) 5.5 Poly
7/23/11 Osunitas Stakes 3up, f&m 8.5 Turf
7/23/11 Eddie Read Stakes  1 3up 9.0 Turf
7/24/11 California Dreamin' Hcp. 3up (CA) 8.5 Turf
7/24/11 San Clemente Hcp.  2 3yo, f 8.0 Turf
7/27/11 Wickerr Stakes 3up 8.0 Turf
7/29/11 Cougar Ii Hcp.  3 3up 12.0 Poly
7/30/11 Fleet Treat Stakes 3yo, f (CA) 7.0 Poly
7/30/11 San Diego Hcp.  2 3up 8.5 Poly
7/31/11 Bing Crosby Stakes  1 3up 6.0 Poly
8/3/11 Graduation Stakes 2yo (CA) 5.5 Poly
8/5/11 Sorrento Stakes  3 2yo, f  6.5 Poly
8/6/11 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes  1 3up, f&m 8.5 Poly
8/7/11 Best Pal Stakes  2 2yo 6.5 Poly
8/10/11 Real Good Deal Stakes 3yo (CA) 7.0 Poly
8/12/11 Daisycutter Hcp. 3up, f&m 5.0 Turf
8/13/11 La Jolla Hcp.  2 3yo 8.5 Turf
8/14/11 John C. Mabee Stakes  2 3up, f&m 9.0 Turf
8/17/11 Green Flash Hcp. 3up 5.0 Turf
8/19/11 Sandy Blue Hcp. 3yo, f 8.0 Turf
8/20/11 Del Mar Oaks  1 3yo, f 9.0 Turf
8/21/11 Rancho Bernardo Hcp.  3 3up, f&m 6.5 Poly
8/21/11 Solana Beach Hcp. 3up, f&m (CA) 8.0 Turf
8/24/11 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes 3up 8.5 Turf
8/26/11 CTT & TOC Hcp. 3up, f&m 11.0 Turf
8/27/11 Del Mar Mile  2 3up 8.0 Turf
8/28/11 Pat O'Brien Stakes  1 3up 7.0 Poly
8/28/11 Del Mar Hcp.  2 3up 11.0 Turf
8/28/11 Pacific Classic  1 3up 10.0 Poly
8/31/11 Generous Portion Stakes 2yo, f (CA) 6.0 Poly
9/2/11 El Cajon Stakes 3yo 8.0 Poly
9/3/11 Windy Sands Hcp. 3up 8.0 Poly
9/3/11 Del Mar Debutante  1 2yo, f 7.0 Poly
9/4/11 Adoration Stakes 3up, f&m 8.0 Poly
9/4/11 Torrey Pines Stakes 3yo, f 8.0 Poly
9/4/11 Del Mar Derby  2 3yo 9.0 Turf
9/5/11 I'M Smokin Stakes 2yo (CA) 6.0 Poly
9/5/11 Palomar Hcp.  2 3up, f&m 8.5 Turf
9/7/11 CERF Stakes 3up, f&m 6.0 Poly
9/7/11 Pirate'S Bounty Stakes 3up 6.0 Poly
9/7/11 Del Mar Futurity  1 2yo 7.0 Poly