It's opening day 2012 at Del Mar with ten races scheduled, including split divisions of the Oceanside Stakes (races 6 and 9). First post is a 2:00pm Pacific; all races can be viewed on TVG.
Let's get right to the action and dive in!
The day starts off with a six horse field of $20k maiden claimers going a mile and a sixteenth for $20k on the Polytrack. Hey, if you can't start the meet off with a maiden claimer, what can you start it off with?
I'm inclined to lean toward 3-Miss California (4/1) on the stretch out following a decent runner-up finish in her last effort at Hollywood. She should get a much better trip in this spot and should enjoy the extra ground given her pedigree (by Jazil out of a Thunder Gulch mare).
The morning line favorite, 6-It's Candy Time (5/2), makes a lot of sense on the drop from Maiden Special Weight company. She's also run well in her previous tries at two turns. Her last race looks fairly strong with both the winner and runner-up coming back to score at next asking.
Top pick: 3-Miss California (4/1)
The second race of the day is a wonderful turf sprint (sarcasm extremely elevated). I'm passing turf sprints; no play.
An open-company, $12.5 Claimer at two turns on the Polytrack - now we're talking. A lot of people don't like low level claiming races but, personally, if they are open company (instead of the dreaded N2L), I think they are great races to handicap. A great thing with the open company races is that most of the horses in the field have a good amount of history and form behind them, as opposed to some conditioned claimers that have a field full of horses that don't appear to have any interest in winning a race.
This third race doesn't have a ton of blazing early speed in it which should make things very comfortable for 3-Guiding Hand (7/2) through the first half mile. I'm a little concerned with this gelding's record at Del Mar (5-0-1-1), especially when you consider that he's been a fairly consistent horse at every other track he's raced at.
The last time 5-Celestic Night (3/1) set foot on the Del Mar Polytrack he won the El Cajon in gate-to-wire fashion. He's 4-2-0-0 at Del Mar and I think it's clear he prefers the surface at Del Mar much more than he does the one at Hollywood. This is a tough spot for any horse but I think this colt is in line for big improvement off of that last race.
Top pick: 5-Celestic Night (3/1)
The first turf route of the meet features $32k claimers (N1Y) going a mile and a sixteenth. There isn't a ton of speed in this race but there should be enough between 5-Kessabtsi (20/1) and 7-Deadly Catch (12/1) to soften things up for some of the late runners.
I really like the look of 4-Te Rapa (5/1) in this spot. He ran well in his only start of 2012 when he finished 4th in a tough open company $25k claimer at Santa Anita in mid-January. In that last race, the winner and the show horse came back to win at next asking (winner Arraignment beat N1X Allowance company at Hollywood; show horse The Unusual One steamrolled a field of $25k N2L horses at Hollywood). He had a little bit of trouble in that last effort and it's reasonable to expect a little improvement with a cleaner run around the track.
Top Pick: 4-Te Rapa (5/1)
Sleeper: AE12-Aqua Fever (8/1); I like this Mullins trainee as a bit of a price play should he draw into the field.
Cal-bred juvenile colts and geldings will go five furlongs in the fifth race on the card with a field split about half and half between first time starters and horses with a race under their belts. The horses that have raced don't appear to be an overly strong group so I'm looking for a first timer that might be ready to put forth a big effort in their debut.
8-Ballard Ruler (5/1) (bred and owned by Seattle's Herman Sarkowsky), has a long string of consistent works for trainer John Sadler. Over the last five years at Del Mar, Sadler is an impressive 14-for-56 with first timers (25% Win, 61% ITM, $3.08 $2 ROI); his horses tend to be live when they debut at Del Mar.
Ballard Ruler is a son of Tribal Rule out of a Bertrando mare (Miss Ballard). Tribal Rule typically has done well with first time starters and with horses running at sprint distances.
Top Pick: 8-Ballard Ruler (5/1)
The sixth race on the card is the first division of the Oceanside Stakes at one mile on the turf course. There is a ton of early speed in this race which should set things up perfectly for both 6-Boat Trip (7/2) and 8-Blingo (3/1). Between the two, I prefer Boat Trip based on his strong recent performances and his more versatile running style; he should be able to find a perfect running positions right a couple of lengths back of the early speed.
I like the Sadler horse, 7-You Know I Know (20/1) as a longshot play; he's up against it in terms of class but if things were to fall apart in the stretch, he might be able to pick up the pieces.
Top Pick: 6-Boat Trip (7/2)
Sleeper Pick: 7-You Know I Know (20/1)
Another open company $12.5 Claimer, this one at six and a half furlongs on the main track with a full field of 12. Despite the big field I think 8-Valkyrie Missile (3/1) is the clear standout based on his recent races. If he runs back to his last three races, he beats this field with ease.
Top Pick: 8-Valkyrie Missile (3/1)
Pay attention to the fourth race as it could have an impact on the eighth. 7-The Unusual One (8/1) finished 3rd, a length and a quarter ahead of Te Rapa a couple races back. If Te Rapa wins (or runs really well) in the 4th, that only adds to the strength of that open company $25k claimer. It also increases the attractiveness of The Unusual One at a decent price in this race. The concern with The Unusual One, and it's a big concern, is the surface; he's struggled over synthetics in the past.
If AE11-Adriatic Moon (5/1) is able to draw into the field I will likely go in his direct at the windows. Leparoux in the saddle for a Mike Mitchell first timer off the claim and at a decent price? Yes, please. Throw in this gelding's prior success over the Del Mar Poly (4-3-0-1) and it's hard not to like his chances.
Top Pick: AE11-Adriatic Moon (5/1)
The second division of the Oceanside and a race where I'm going to try and beat the favorite, 9-Holy Candy (9/5). Holy Candy should do fine in his first turf try the success of his sire and dam in producing turf runners, but I've got to go in a different direction due to what will likely be short odds come post time.
4-Old Time Hockey (6/1) has performed quite well once Thomas Proctor was able to get him on the turf. This is his first try against stakes competition and it's clearly a tough spot to come up with a victory, but I love the addition of Leparoux in the irons and this gelding should be able to find good racing position in the early stages. I don't know if he's good enough to beat Holy Candy if the favorite is on his game, but I'm going to take a shot nonetheless.
Top Pick: 4-Old Time Hockey (6/1)
We finish off day one with a $40k Maiden Claimer for state-bred fillies at six furlongs on the main track. Ugh. I'm going to keep this one simple: 11-War Excess (8/1) on the drop and off of a huge layoff.
Top Pick: 11-War Excess (8/1)