Updated on 09/05/2013 9:20AM

Del Mar: Brad Free's daily handicapping diary for 2013


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Wednesday, Sept. 4

The curtain comes down on an exciting meet.

When Diamond Bachelor ($4.60) debuted routing on turf here Aug. 8 he was no secret. Sent off as the 6-5 favorite, he showed the buzz was for real as he won easily. Wheeled back in today’s Oak Tree Juvenile Turf, the $570,000 son of War Front looked even better, leading all the way to win in a romp under Julien Leparoux.

"This horse can win the Derby," said trainer Patrick Biancone. "This is one of the best horses I’ve trained at this age.”

That’s heady stuff from the man who also conditioned Grade 1 winner Lion Heart.

Of course, the Derby is a long way off and for now the focus is on turf. Biancone said the Zuma Beach at a mile on turf at Santa Anita Oct. 6 would be next, and should all go well there, a shot at the BC Juvenile Turf Nov. 1. Biancone confirmed the colt would stay on grass through 2013. As far as 2014 goes, well, success could lead to another approach.

Meanwhile, in the same race, Station House, an impressive debut winner for Dick Mandella and considered a big threat to Diamond Bachelor, never appeared happy on the going as he was rank early. He was eventually eased.

If you have any idea who the leading juvenile male is in Southern California, please let me know. Tamarando ($17.80) posted the upset in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. A son of top-class Bertrando who was coming off a nice maiden win, Tamarando bided his time early, swung out into the lane and powered home to get the win. This capped off a super meet for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who made a great decision, opting to pass on the six-furlong I’m Smokin Monday and go here instead. The Grade 1 Forerunner at Santa Anita Sept. 28 may be next.

Dance With Fate was a bit unlucky, rallying smartly for second after traffic issues. Can the Man, who was looking to give trainer Bob Baffert an amazing 11th win in this race, pressed the pace, took the lead into the lane but couldn’t hold it, finishing third. Alberts Hope, the tepid 7-2 favorite off his win in the Grade 2 Best Pal, was away poorly but finished well for fourth, just a nose behind Can the Man.

This was a nice run by the winner but don’t you get the feeling this particular group is just taking turns? Could it be the best of the division out West has yet to show himself, or did we him earlier in the day in Diamond Bachelor?

- Michael Hammersly

Monday, Sept. 2

Fight the Power ($14.80) hadn’t run since Feb. 23 at Oaklawn Park and had never run on synthetic track, but neither mattered for the day’s second race. The son of Mass Media was taking the most important drop in the game (straight maiden to maiden claiming) and off some good local works got the job done for trainer Cody Autrey.

He showed talent when a sharp second on dirt in his Jan. 31 debut at Oaklawn Park and was claimed for $40,000. He next tried straight maidens, but that didn’t go well, and then came the long layoff. Well, under Joe Talamo, he was away slowly but had the speed to be midpack after the first margin call. He moved closer going to the far turn, moved up to challenge for the lead into the lane, and gamely persevered to edge a stubborn Market Portfolio. He wasn’t claimed, so Autrey played poker and won.

Egg Drop ($8) won the Grade 2 Yellow Ribbon, but she needed a bit of an assist from the stewards. The 4-year-old daughter of Alphabet Soup, coming off a superb second in the Grade 2 Royal Heroine at Betfair Hollywood Park on July 6, showed she’s the real deal as she stalked pacesetter A Jealous Woman, took over from that tiring rival into the lane, drifted some, but gamely prevailed. When she did drift in, it appeared she forced My Gi Gi to steady. However, runner-up Appealing appeared to come out a bit as well and may have contributed to My Gi Gi's woes.

Regardless, after a long deliberation (over 10 minutes) the stewards came back and ruled no change, that the incident didn’t affect the order of finish.

It would be ambitious, but off this she may deserve a crack at the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita on Sept. 28. If they think that spot is too tough or the trip too far, they could wait for the Grade 2 Goldikova at a mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, and, should all go well there, the Grade 1 Matriarch at Betfair Hollywood Park at a mile in late November looms.

– Michael Hammersly

Sunday, Sept. 1

Soi Phet ($5) continued his ascent, winning third straight this meet and fourth straight overall in today’s opener. Certainly he has to be considered the most improved horse on the circuit, and it’s hard to believe he was claimed for a measly $16,000 over three months ago.

He stalked the pace, took over turning for home and had no trouble keeping some nice rivals at bay through the lane. He’s obviously a new horse since being bought by trainer Leonard Powell, who’s now 5 for his first 10 this meet (50 percent). He also ran quite a bit faster than champion filly Beholder did while winning the Torrey Pines about an hour later (1:35.28 compared to 1:36.30). Considering he’s so sharp and has handled dirt it would be no shock to see him show up in a stakes at Fairplex in the coming weeks.

Speaking of last year’s 2-year-old filly champ, Beholder dominated the Torrey Pines, leading all the way and winning in hand, returning $2.20. It was her first start since a strong second in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs May 3, a run that continues to look stellar considering winner Princess of Sylmar has since dominated in three Grade 1's and is surely queen of the division. Beholder's trainer Dick Mandella said she’ll shoot for the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita Sept. 28, and should all go well there a potential summit with top-class elders Royal Delta and Joyful Affair, among others, in the Grade 1 BC Distaff there Nov. 1. It would be a tall task, to be sure, but Beholder is loaded with quality and has the speed to be in the thick of it from the bell.

The Grade 2 Del Mar Derby was oversubscribed and had to be run in divisions (races 6, 9). As tough as the races seemed on paper they turned out to be fairly formful. Favored Gabriel Charles ($5.80) bided his time and finished strongly to win comfortably over Gervinho in the first division. Redwood Kitten, an East Coast raider, showed good speed and stayed on well for third. Tough break for the impressive Rising Legend as it appeared his saddle slipped, leaving rider Julien Leparoux without control.

There’s no more Oak Tree Derby, Gabriel Charles has to face elders or wait for the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in late November.

In the second division, Edwin Maldonado put Ethnic Dance ($13.80) on the lead from his rail slot and the son of Tribal Rule never looked back, though he had to survive a stewards’ inquiry. He was able to set slow splits, drifted inward in midstretch, but kept his rivals at bay.

When Maldonado won the day’s 10th with big longshot Storm Reveler ($63) it assured a pick six carryover of $297,538 for Monday.

- Michael Hammersly

Saturday, Aug. 31

Sometimes a trainer tips his hand. Jack Carava had Husband’s Folly entered as an also-eligible in a tough optional claimer for $25,000 last Wednesday. The horse did not get in, but Carava wheeled him back for the same price in race 3 on Saturday, and the placement was ideal.

Under Victor Espinoza, Husband’s Folly ($34.20) sat well back in the 1 1/8-mile turf test, swung out into the lane, and powered home to post the upset. Carava’s tag risk paid off, too – no one claimed the 5-year-old son of Decarchy. Carava had claimed him for just $12,500 on July 17, so his keeping the horse in at double the value was most encouraging. The only downside is that he now likely has to wait until Santa Anita to get another shot at turf.

We’ve been waiting for a juvenile male to come to the fore, and maybe we saw it with New Year’s Day ($3.80) in race 4. The Bob Baffert trainee ran on very well to be third in his debut here Aug. 17. He cost a pretty penny ($425,000) and, after that sprint debut, got a crack at a route here. It worked.

He stalked the pace, surged to a clear lead into the lane, and had no trouble keeping the hard-trying Bond Holder at bay. He’s bred to prefer the long game, as he’s by multiple Grade 1 winner Street Cry (the sire of top-class routers Zenyatta and Street Sense) out of a Dixie Union mare, and there’s certainly stamina there.

You had to wonder how Clubhouse Ride would respond in his first time back after an illness, and you couldn’t be surprised when the 5-year-old was no factor in the Harry F. Brubaker (race 5), as he was last early and could manage just fifth. Still, it was probably good for him to get some action, and so long as he comes out of this in good shape, he may be ready to resume his good work in the deeper end of the pool.

- Michael Hammersly

Friday, Aug. 30

Chantal Sutherland-Kruse, who injured her calf when dumped in Thursday’s opener, took off her mounts Friday.

Continuing a tough week for the jockeys, Quick Approval unseated rider Martin Pedroza prior to the start of race 4 and had to be scratched. Pedroza was unscathed.

It was a slow start to the meet for trainer Doug O’Neill, but he’s more than made up for that in recent weeks, and he continued his strong run saddling new acquisition Lilly’s Perfect ($5.40) to post a smart win in the day’s opener. O’Neill claimed her for $25K when she won a turf route at Betfair Hollywood Park on June 14. He cut her value in half for this and moved her to the synthetic main track, but none of that bothered her as she stalked under Rafael Bejarano and finished well to win clear as the 8-5 favorite. She may be tough up the ladder, but it won’t be for O’Neill – she was claimed by Kristin Mulhall.

Vionnet ($12.60) had shown talent in 2012 with a couple stakes placings, but after nine months off came back to be a dullish sixth here July 18 and you had to be a bit worried. Well, worry no more as the Dick Mandella trainee bided her time and finished strongly to beat a nice bunch. Apparently she’s back on track. Now, she’ll likely get a bit of a breather and target a turf start at Santa Anita.

- Michael Hammersly

Thursday, Aug. 29

Tough start to the day for Chantal Sutherland-Kruse as she got dumped at the start by her mount Marina Del Heat in the opener. She tweeted that she hurt a calf muscle, but she was examined and cleared to ride her two remaining mounts on the card. However, she rode just one of those and took off her mount in the nightcap.

It’s not so much questioning a horse’s heart, but with some animals you wonder if the herd instinct is just too powerful to overcome. Field Report seemed in a great situation in the day’s second, a turf sprint, and made the 2-1 favorite. Field Report stalked the pace before finishing second to Love de Car ($8). It’s the fourth straight time he’s finished second, and his seventh runner-up finish in his last eight starts.

Journey On ($3.60) was no secret in the day’s fifth race, but think about what she overcame. The daughter of top-class turf miler Good Journey had laughed at maidens in a main-track sprint here Aug. 15 by 5 1/2 lengths (earning a big 89 Beyer). Here, though, she was facing winners for the first time, turf for the first time and a route for the first time. None of that mattered. Under Martin Pedroza she sat second as Calameera opened up a big early lead. She had no trouble reeling in that tiring rival turning for home, opened up into the lane, and drew off to win as she pleased by 4 1/2 lengths. Journey On continues a strong run for trainer Doug O’Neill, and off this big win she looks ready to move right up the ladder, though that likely has to wait until Santa Anita when turf racing resumes.

A pick six carryover of $81,441 spills into Friday’s matinee card after these winners: Miz Wounded Knee ($30.20), Journey On ($3.60), Brighton Star ($8.40), Pat’s Back ($6.20), Atta Boy Pete ($28.20), and Regally Soul ($33.20).

- Michael Hammersly

Wednesday, Aug. 28

We’ve been waiting for a sign, from someone – who is the region’s top 2-year-old male? Well, while the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity is just a week away and will showcase some nice runners, none exactly gets the pulse racing.

In today’s second race John Sadler unveiled his much-ballyhooed Kristo, who some thought might be the one. Sent off the 3-5 favorite under Rafael Bejarano, Kristo stalked the pace, grabbed the lead into the lane but raced greenly and couldn’t fend off winner Rivers Run Deep, ending up second but well clear of third. All things considered, he didn’t run badly at all, so the result still makes the early buzz over him seem not that far off target.

A $500,000 son of Distorted Humor, sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Kristo is bred to run on, so it’s far too early to give up on him and we may not see his best until he gets a bit more ground.

But it means we’re still waiting for the division leader out West.

Meanwhile winner Rivers Run Deep ($49), a son of Ready’s Image making his debut for Cody Autrey, bided his time at the back and came with a strong wide run to roll past the leaders for the upset. Autrey continues his superb work with first-time starters (8 for his last 20, 40 percent).

One of the most alluring moves by a trainer is the big class hike, particularly off the claim. It speaks of confidence and tells others that if they want to claim said horse they’re going to have to pay top dollar. Well, trainer Matthew Chew worked that angle to perfection in the day’s fifth.

He claimed Domonation off a monstrous 6 1/4-length win for $10,000 here July 31 and promptly doubled him in value for this outing. Players dismissed Domonation off such a class hike, much to their chagrin. The 6-year-old gelding apparently has a new lease on life and he bounded home to win smartly to the tune of $21.40.

- Michael Hammersly

Sunday, Aug. 25

After becoming the first horse since Lava Man (2006) to take the three marquee events for older horses in Southern California (Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic), Game on Dude will reportedly now skip the Grade 1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita (a race he won last year) and instead go to the Grade 1 BC Classic off a lengthy layoff. Trainer Bob Baffert cited how well the horse did in the Pacific Classic off the seven-week layoff as his reason for trying the same tactics for the BC Classic.

The bigger question for Game On Dude, however, remains one of pace. He was able to get away with murder up front here (47.96, 1:12.61), which left him with plenty of energy to power the next quarter in 24 and the final quarter in 24.08. You’re not going to catch him if he’s allowed to do that.

But come the BC Classic it seems inconceivable he’ll be able to dawdle like that early and kick home, not if the likes of defending champ Fort Larned and top-class speedster Cross Traffic show up. In last year’s BC Classic at Santa Anita, Fort Larned went 46, 1:10.12, 1:34.66, while Game on Dude chased in vain. A sluggish start and a ride some considered hesitant by Rafael Bejarano may have compromised his chances in that race. He has won numerous times from just off the pace, but against the best of the best is he as good using such tactics?

- Michael Hammersly

Saturday, Aug. 24

Race 5, a starter allowance on turf, proved again that on the grass it’s often more the case of who gets the right trip. Brown Bess, the favorite, sat back, swung wide into the lane for clear sailing and got up in the final strides. However, second- and third-place finishers Two Term Leader and Sinfully may have been best.

Two Term Leader sat midpack but never really had clear sailing until it was far too late. It was a trip that makes you think about walking through the mall just days ahead of Christmas – nobody knocks you over, but you’re waiting, waiting and waiting for room so you can walk unobstructed. That was the case for Two Term Leader.

Sinfully, meanwhile, got away slowly to be last in the field of nine, was still well back turning for home, and had to steady off heels in midstretch before swinging out and surging late. Too late.

Jerry Hollendorfer continues to show why he’s in the Hall of Fame. The big news for him on this day was shipping Sweet Lulu to Saratoga to capture the Grade 1 Test. She stayed unbeaten and stamped herself of a potential play for the Grade 1 BC Filly & Mare Sprint here Nov. 1.

On a much lesser scale in today’s sixth race he showed his ability to get a horse ready off the layoff, as he sent out Wild Dude to whip maidens after nearly 11 months on the bench. The son of Wildcat Heir showed talent here a year ago, running second to top-class Goldencents and then chasing stakes winners Super Ninety Nine and Shakin It Up at Santa Anita last Oct. 7. He hadn’t races since but had worked strongly.

With Rafael Bejarano up, Wild Dude sat third while Chief Lion opened up a long lead. Wild Dude had no trouble reeling in that tiring rival in the lane and bounded clear to win easily by 5 3/4 lengths, earning a 99 Beyer Speed Figure.

- Michael Hammersly

Friday, Aug. 23

Race-1 winner One Firm Cat was aggressively placed in the $25,000 claimer for 3-year-olds, a significant drop only two months after he was claimed for $40,000. It turned out to be the right move. One Firm Cat overcame traffic on the turn and won by a half-length under Edwin Maldonado. When a claim does not work as hoped, a drop can be the best move. No claims, so One Firm Cat figures "live" right back for trainer Craig Dollase. He seems best as a late-running sprinter.

A change in tactics produced a sharp maiden win by Heyyoucan in the second race. The 2-year-old previously set the pace and tired, but new rider Garrett Gomez took him back in the $30,000 maiden-claimer and he rallied from the middle of the field to win by more than three with a good 68 Beyer Speed Figure. His next start is likely to be in a starter allowance.

Most turf routes this meet have been won from off the pace, but when
race-3 favorite Ricspretentiousgal walked through a 47.80-second half and 1:11.60 three-quarters, the race was history. She won by almost two lengths and was claimed by John Sadler from Ron Ellis. As summer ends and the turf course wears down, speed is expected to stick.

Big comeback win by Southern Sunrise in race 5, a $40,000 maiden-claiming sprint he won by more than five lengths in a quick 1:02.60. He earned a 91 Beyer Figure and would be live right back in a maiden-40 starter allowance.

Topic was the only 3-year-old in the CTT & TOC Handicap, race 7 for fillies and mares at 1 3/8 miles on turf. Recently third in the Grade 1 American Oaks, Topic rallied from last under Garrett Gomez and won by more than three lengths. Nice win by the Neil Drysdale trainee over a modest cast, but talk of Breeders' Cup is premature.

Wednesday, Aug. 21

Sometimes the best horse in a race happens to be a front-runner.

Other times, the best horse is a front-runner racing over a speed-favoring surface. In those situations, a bettor has two choices – take the short price, or pass the race.

It happened Wednesday in race 1, a turf sprint in which front-runner Sweet Assay was the fastest in the field on speed figures and racing over a course kind to her style.

Sweet Assay ($3.60) was the seventh gate-to-wire winner from 14 turf sprints at the meet. Furthermore, 12 of the 14 winners were within one length of the lead after the first quarter-mile (Aug. 14 disqualified winner Distinctiv Passion included).

Stewards have been busy. In race 4, they disqualified winner Trelawny for interference in the stretch of the one-mile turf race. Five-pound apprentice Irving Orozco was aboard. Stewards ruled Trelawny interfered with original fourth-place finisher Sebastian Flyte. Trelawny was placed behind Sebastian Flyte.

The disqualification made Mr. Bossy Pants ($17.40) the winner and brought his career win rate to 50 percent. The 7-year-old gelding, a sprinter most of his career, has won 11 of 22.

There was one winning ticket in the pick six. According to turf writer Jeff Nahill (@Jeff_Nahill), the ticket was purchased at Sam Houston for $288.

The pick six returned $87,607.20.

Sunday, Aug. 18

Reneesgotzip benefitted from a speed bias winning her comeback July 18. The bias was reason to consider her potentially vulnerable second start back in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo, race 4.

Or, not.

Reneesgotzip is the fastest female sprinter in California, and she proved it again in the 6 1/2-furlong Rancho Bernardo.

Reneesgotzip benefitted from a relatively slow first quarter mile in 22.43 seconds, then turned on the jets. She sped the middle quarter in an eye-popping 22.03 seconds, opened up into the lane, and won by 4 1/4 lengths while smashing the track record by more than .40 of a second.

Reneesgotzip was timed in 1:14.48; she earned a 103 Beyer.

“She’s very, very fast and that’s her main weapon,” jockey Garrett Gomez said. “But she’s got another dimension to her. She doesn’t have to be on the lead, but when she’s running like she did today you really don’t want to do anything else with her.”

Her trainer Peter Miller added, “What can I say? She’s just the fastest thing on four legs. The track record did surprise me a little bit, yeah.”

Subpar recent efforts by Groupie Doll and Teddy’s Promise have tossed the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint wide open. The race may have found an early favorite in Reneesgotzip.

Kid Dreams and Tom’s Tribute were the only 3-year-olds in race 5, a first-level allowance at a mile on turf. Kid Dreams won by 1 1/4 lengths and he might wheel back in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby against 3-year-olds.

Tom’s Tribute was disappointing at 3-2. He lost by 1 1/4 lengths and did not run poorly. But this handicapper expected him to win.

Miss Scatalicious was tough to find in race 7, a sprint for 2-year-old maiden fillies. The slow-working first-time starter by Scat Daddy wired the field at $86.20 for trainer Molly Pearson. She earned a 74 Beyer.

Tamarando looked good winning race 9, a sprint for California-bred 2-year-olds. He rallied from midfield, won going away, earned a 75 Beyer, and figures to improve running long. He is by Bertrando.

Saturday, Aug. 17

Mid-August is later than normal for Bob Baffert to win with a 2-year-old colt. Typically, by this point, Baffert has won a handful of races with juvenile colts who would point to the Del Mar Futurity.

But this summer has been surprisingly quiet for Baffert’s 2-year-old males, though in race 4, first-time starter Can the Man became his first juvenile-colt winner of the season.

Can the Man got hammered to 1-2 and won by 1 1/2 lengths with a 71 Beyer Speed Figure. Rather slow. First-time starter Test Ride did not get away well from the rail and finished a creditable third. He should improve next out.

Rock Me Baby is one tough customer. A 4-year-old gelding by Rock Hard Ten trained by Craig Dollase, Rock Me Baby has raced 10 times, with five wins and four seconds. His latest win was race 5, a second-level turf allowance that he won by a neck. Rock Me Baby, owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, has won on Cushion Track, Polytrack, dirt, and turf.

Race 6 for 2-year-old maidens was the faster split of race 4. Second-time starter Indexical ($35.80) won by 3 1/4 lengths and earned an 84 Beyer. That makes Indexical the “fastest” 2-year-old male in Southern California, a point behind the juvenile filly Awesome Baby.

Indexical is trained by Ben Cecil and owned by J. Paul Reddam. He was sired by Into Mischief.

The race 6 favorite My Secret Affair had a troubled start and can be followed when he makes his second start.

Another shipper won a big race at Del Mar. In the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, it was Discreet Marq ($9.40), trained by Chris Clemente and ridden by Julien Leparoux.

A series of upsets and middle prices created another pick-six carryover. The carryover into Sunday was $189,823.

Friday, Aug. 16

The first-race winner was Hustlin Nu, ridden by Pat Valenzuela. It was the first victory for Valenzuela since Oct. 6. Valenzuela, 50, is on the comeback after knee surgery.

Trainer Doug O’Neill is so hot he can wheel back horses in one week and win. Great Friends Rule raced gate to wire at $12.80 in race 2, a turf sprint. His task was made easier because habitual runner-up Field Report was chasing him home. Field Report loves to follow. It was his sixth runner-up finish from his last seven starts, all at low odds.

Another hot trainer is John Sadler, who leads the meet. He won two, with first-off-the-claim 2-year-old Yodel Up a Storm in race 3 and the comebacking stretch-out runner Rosies Ready in race 4. Rosies Ready, in her first start in two months, paid $20.40 and earned a creditable 84 Beyer. Not bad for a 3-year-old filly running long for the first time. Runner-up Passionate Diva finished more than five lengths clear of third and appears to be sitting on a win.

Romance Is Sosa was the only Northern California shipper in race 5, a California-bred allowance route. He rallied from last and won going away. He paid $7.20 as the favorite. Apparently, some bettors are catching on to the (Northern California) ship-and-win trend.

Sarach entered the $90,000 Sandy Blue Handicap on Friday and the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks on Saturday. Trainer Richard Mandella opted for the easier spot, and Sarach pace-pressed her way to victory in the Sandy Blue, a one-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies. The front-running favorite, Pontchatrain, finished fourth. Sarach early this year won the Grade 2 Honeymoon at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Backintheacademy posted the day’s biggest upset in race 7. The $20,000 maiden-claiming filly won by more than 11 lengths and returned $25.80.
New money of $886,620 was wagered into the pick six; there were 10 winning tickets each worth $58,612.

Thursday, Aug. 15

Winning the first daily double Thursday was easy. All a bettor needed was $4 using the two Northern California shippers in race 1 (Jedi Mind Trick paid $4.20; Echo Zulu finished second) and the only Northern California shipper in race 2 ($18.20 Sensational Nikki). The $2 double returned $52.40.

One could debate calling the first two winners true “shippers.” After all, they are trained by locals John Sadler and Peter Miller. What is indisputable is that horses whose last start was in Northern California have won a host of races all summer.

The hottest trainer the past week and a half has been Doug O’Neill. He won two more Thursday, both upsets. Second-time starter Journey On improved and paid $13.40 after winning a $40,000 maiden claimer that was race 3; Cat Pirate returned from a layoff of more than four months to win a restricted $16,000 claiming sprint for fillies and mares that was race 4. Cat Pirate returned $22.

Topper’s Ghost was 20-1 on the morning line for race 5. The 2-year-old gelding was hammered to 5-2 favoritism and won by three-quarters of a length, the first win of the meet for trainer Bill Spawr. Topper’s Ghost earned a 60 Beyer and was claimed by Sadler.

Spawr’s summer slump is weird because year-round he is among the most reliable trainers in Southern California. But the win by Topper’s Ghost snapped an 18-race losing streak this summer for Spawr. Over the previous four summer meets, Spawr was a combined 8 for 108, a 7 percent win rate that is roughly one-third his normal clip.

The disqualification of favorite Vibrato Jazz from victory in race 7 elevated runner-up Affrenttado ($20.20) to victory and set the stage for a pick-six carryover into Friday. It did not matter that class dropper Stormin Lute ($3.20) won race 8.
The pick-six carryover into Friday was $110,122.

Wednesday, Aug. 14

For the fourth straight Wednesday, the pick six was the story. A carryover a $255,708 from Sunday attracted $1,687,187 in new money, a 13-percent increase from the average pick six pools three previous Wednesdays with similar-sized carryovers.

Calameera ($7.40 second choice) wired race 3, a maiden-20 that was the first leg of the pick six. The favorite, Scary Fast, lost her chance when she bobbled and bumped at the break. First-time starter Spritzy got only limited support, and finished a dull seventh. This low-rated race was a split of race 8, which was more than one second faster.

Bas ($20.60) posted the biggest upset of the sequence in race 4, a $10,000 claiming route for fillies and mares. She won by two lengths as trainer Doug O’Neill continues to fire. The past six racing days, O’Neill is 8 for 24.

Tiz a Kiss ($7.20 favorite) won race 5, a special-weight route for California-bred maiden fillies and mares. She had a good recent sprint under her belt, a long-distance pedigree, and looked good winning by nearly four lengths. Best bet of the day, indeed.

Unbridled Giant ($6.20 favorite) was taking a precipitous class drop in race 6, a $25,000 claiming race, N2L. Trainer Bob Baffert is extra careful with droppers, more so when Tweebster broke down and was euthanized Dec. 30. Unbridled Giant won by more than four and was claimed by Emily Mode. Wonder how many races Unbridled Giant has left.

Sirocco Strike ($16.40) inherited victory in the race-7 Green Flash Handicap after winner Distinctiv Passion (the 5-2 favorite) was disqualified for drifting out and interfering with third place Strong Wind. Distinctiv Passion set an insane pace (21.46 and 43.63 seconds) in the five-furlong race, and “won” by a neck.

But he drifted out under left-handed whipping of Edwin Maldonado and bumped Strong Wind. It was an unfortunate incident, because Distinctiv Passion was best.

A small upset in race 8 was provided by second-start dropper Dolphin Shorts ($15.20), who raced gate to wire in a maiden-20. Race 8 was 1.22 seconds faster than race 3, also for maiden-20 fillies and mares.

The pick-six prices:
Calameera, $7.40
Bas, $20.60
Tiz a Kiss, $7.20 (favorite)
Unbridled Giant, $6.20 (favorite)
Sirocco Strike, $16.40
Dolphin Shorts, $15.20

There were 20 perfect tickets in the pick six. Each was worth $57,967.


Sunday, Aug. 11

The first week and a half of summer, speed won everything on the main track. For the next two and a half weeks, winners came from everywhere – wide from behind, inside from behind, pressing the pace wide, and setting the pace inside. As for predictable form, that is another story.

There were no winning favorites Sunday on the main track. The upset trend continues.

After four weeks, favorites have won only 23 percent of main-track races (29 for 124).

Turf favorites have won 33 percent (17 for 51).

Overall, favorites have won 26 percent (46 for 175).

Yes, Del Mar Polytrack is tough to figure. And for the fourth straight Sunday, no one hit the pick six. The carryover into Wednesday was $255,708.

In hindsight, Valid But True ($37.20) was a “have-able” longshot in race 3. The $20,000 maiden claimer pressed an insane pace last out and tired. That race already produced two next-out winners. Valid But True made it three, gate to wire.

In hindsight, No Jet Lag ($24.20) was “have-able” in race 5, his U.S. debut for trainer Simon Callaghan in an N1X. Other-circuit shippers have been running amok this summer, and after a slow break (typical European) he rallied from eighth to win going away.

Well-regarded 2-year-old Dance With Fate ($6.80) improved a ton second out in race 6. The son of Two Step Salsa produced improved speed and won the sprint by 1 1/2 lengths with a 74 Beyer that could make him a fringe contender in the Del Mar Futurity.

Race-6 runner-up Southern Freedom is sitting on a win. He finished nearly four lengths clear of third.

Tiz Flirtatious ($3.20) is fun to watch. Racing over a turf course kind to her closing style, she unleashed a burst of late speed to crush the Grade 2 John C. Mabee Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths.

Only three horses were uncovered by pick-six bettors in the ninth and final race, including upset winner Tiz Dynamic ($73.40).

Saturday, Aug. 10

The likelihood of a slow pace was a main reason Daily Racing Form’s analyst in Southern California preferred a pace-presser and a front-runner in the Grade 2 La Jolla.

He wrote this about Freakin Rocket: “… meets only one pace rival, and if the race unfolds at a slower tempo he should supply a stronger late kick.”

And, this: “Rosengold is the only other front-runner …”

That was a really swell pace analysis (sarcasm intended) of the mile and a sixteenth turf race.

Rosengold opened up a four-length lead, racing the opening half-mile in a quick 45.81 seconds. Freakin Rocket chased from third. Rosengold went six furlongs in 1:09.58. Too fast. Freakin Rocket loomed three wide into the lane, but the fractions took their toll.

Slow pace, phooey. Freakin Rocket weakened to seventh. Rosengold finished last of nine.

It was Dice Flavor, buried next to last at the top of the stretch, who somehow found a seam under jockey Garrett Gomez. Eighth at the furlong pole, Dice Flavor ($19.80) surged late and won going away in a race that set up perfectly for his closing style.

Welcome back, Gomez. It was his first day of riding in nearly a month.

The La Jolla starter that ran best was Den’s Legacy. He chased the hot pace from second, made the lead and opened up in the stretch, then got collared. If he runs two alike, Den’s Legacy could be a tough customer Sept. 1 in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby.

Four weeks into the meet, the Del Mar turf course has not favored front-runners. Bettors that prefer speed on the closers-friendly course are buying losing tickets.

At the end of the fourth week (through Aug. 11), these were the course-profile statistics:

There were 17 turf races at one mile; only two were won by the pacesetter.

There were 20 turf races at a mile and a sixteenth; only four were won the pacesetter.

There were four turf races at a mile and one-eighth or farther; none won by the pacesetter.

Late speed wins turf races this summer at Del Mar. Remember that.

Friday, Aug. 9

The first three weeks of summer, Doug O’Neill seemed one of the coldest trainers at Del Mar. His horses were firing, but losing. His 51 starters produced only three wins, with 12 runner-up finishes.

The fourth week, O’Neill has been Del Mar’s hottest trainer. O’Neill started 16 horses Wednesday through Friday, and won six races including the race-1 statebred turf allowance Friday by Star Rocker.

Star Rocker upped his game switching to grass. Sired by the good turf stallion Atticus and produced by the sprint filly Absolute Nectar, Star Rocker won the sprint by a length and half with an 83 Beyer.

Owned and bred by Pablo Suarez, he is 2 for 2 on turf.

Tasty Treat won the Daisycutter Handicap, race 7, but third place Kinz Funky Monkey was best. She pulled hard early, steadied and was shuffled out of position into the far turn, then finished with run to miss by less than two lengths.

It was a sleepy card Friday. The track has played fairly for all running styles; the win rate of favorites is trending upward as the meet passed the halfway point Friday.

Favorites have won 26 percent (41 of 156) this summer. Polytrack win rate is 24 percent (26 for 110), and turf favorites are 33 percent (15 for 46).

Thursday, Aug. 8

Two guys that have not made much news lately had a good afternoon Thursday at Del Mar.

Trainer Patrick Biancone unveiled a promising 2-year-old colt that could be any type; former NFL head coach Mike Tice reportedly hit the pick six for $100,796.

Biancone served a six-month suspension in 2007 for possession of cobra venom. Since his return, his win rate stalled at 10 percent. As a point of comparison, during the eight-year period prior to his suspension, Biancone won with 19 percent of his starters.

Biancone’s win-rate decline can be attributed to a decline in quality of stock. That may have changed this year if Diamond Bachelor is any indication

Purchased for $570,000 at the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds, the War Front colt made his debut in race 5. Bet to 1.30-1 favoritism racing a mile on turf, Diamond Bachelor pressed a slow pace and kicked away in the lane to win by more than three lengths with a 70 Beyer Figure.

The Oak Tree Juvenile Turf on Sept. 2 would be a logical goal for Diamond Bachelor. Biancone has always been a top trainer. Diamond Bachelor could be on his way to becoming a top 2-year-old.

As for Tice, it was reported by ESPN that he played a $128 pick six ticket on Thursday at Del Mar where he was vacationing. The former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Tice held the only winning ticket after Bardy got up in deep stretch to win the final race.

Wednesday, Aug. 7

Polytrack produced slightly slower times Wednesday relative to the first three weeks of the meet. The surface was fair to all running styles.

Del Mar stewards have been criticized this meet for inconsistency, so it is only right to point out when they get it right. In race 2, they got it right.

Go First crossed the wire first, but the 2-year-old maiden had drifted out sharply in deep stretch under the left-handed whip of Corey Nakatani. Go First made contact with runner-up Ashleyluvssugar.

The margin was a nose. Stewards disqualified 2.70-1 Go First and made Ashleyluvssugar the $81.80 winner. It was the right call.

The horse to follow from race 2 is Sudden Rumor, the favorite, who was making his first start. Bumped and away last, he gradually made up ground to finished third by less than four lengths. He should be tough next time against California-breds.

Race 3 produced the day’s fastest main-track performance. Spring Breeze, a shipper, crushed $20,000 claiming fillies and mares by more than seven in 1:16.39 for 6 1/2 furlongs. In from Colonial Downs for trainer Jeff Bonde, she earned an 89 Beyer and was claimed by Doug O’Neill. She will be live on the raise. The 7-5 favorite Addendum hopped when the gates opened and was eliminated.

Clenor had finished third last out in a Group 3 in Ireland. She made her U.S. debut in race 4 for maidens at a mile on turf. Trainer Doug O’Neill thought she was Breeders’ Cup caliber. She is not there yet, but she is on her way. She won the maiden race with authority and is likely to show up Sept. 2 in the Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf.

Both race-6 favorites were eliminated at the break. It was a second-level allowance sprint for fillies and mares. Ismene bobbled, got squeezed, and finished eighth at 3-2. Throw out the race. Charm the Maker also broke slowly, and had too much to do. She finished fifth. The winner was the only 3-year-old, Wednesday.

Concave is not brilliant, but she does have class. The 2-year-old filly showed it in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes. She raced inside and behind horses, angled out, and won by a half-length in 1:17.45 for 6 1/2 furlongs.

Trained by Doug O’Neill (three wins Wednesday), Concave earned a 73 Beyer, and is 2 for 2. Runner-up She’s a Tiger finished more than four clear of overbet even-money favorite Stop Smiling.

And finally, best wishes to colleague Ed Zieralski of the San Diego Union-Tribune, who was in a scary automobile accident Tuesday night.

According to Del Mar publicity, Zieralski’s car flipped on its side and became tangled with live power lines. Trapped for 90 minutes, Zieralski escaped without serious injury and was expected back at work later this week.

Sunday, Aug. 4

The best 2-year-olds in Southern California surfaced Sunday at Del Mar, and they were cooled out long before the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes was run.

Sunday’s card included three races for 2-year-olds – two highly rated maiden races won by impressive first-time starters, followed later by the low-rated Best Pal won by Alberts Hope. His final time for 6 1/2 furlongs (1:16.71) earned an ordinary 74 Beyer.

First were the fast ones.

Awesome Baby, a Bob Baffert-trained filly by Awesome Again, was hammered to 4-5 in race 2. She sped to the lead, set a strong pace, and dominated by 4 3/4 lengths in a meet-fastest time for five and a half furlongs of 1:03.14.

Awesome Baby earned an 85 Beyer, highest of the year by a Southern California 2-year-old of either gender. Baffert said she will aim to the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante on Aug. 31. Based on numbers, and pending the Grade 2 Sorrento on Aug. 7, Awesome Baby could go favored in the Debutante.

Baffert has several promising juvenile fillies. As of Monday, two were confirmed for the Debutante – Awesome Baby and Secret Compass. Plans are in flux for Spring Moon and Cadron; highly regarded Fascinating (half to Bodemeister) runs this weekend.

Aotearoa was 20-1 on the morning line for race 5, a maiden race for California-bred 2-year-olds. But the word was out on trainer Leonard Powell’s first-time starter, and he was hammered to 5.40-1. He was forwardly placed three wide, won by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:03.76, and earned a respectable 72 Beyer. Not bad for a first-time starter.

The I’m Smokin for California-bred 2-year-olds will be run Sept. 2. That seems a likely spot for Aotearoa considering the top statebred 2-year-old (California Chrome) will point to the Grade 1 Futurity on Sept. 4.

Finally, the Best Pal was race 8, won by Alberts Hope. He raced wide, challenged for the lead into the lane, battled with rail-tripper Celtic Moon, and won by a half in 1:16.71. He earned a 74 Beyer, which makes him the lowest-rated Best Pal winner since Beyer Figures began being published in 1991.

The current Futurity favorite must be California Chrome, whose 83 Beyer in the Graduation Stakes is the highest of the year by a Southern California 2-year-old male.

After three weeks, the win rate for main-track favorites is 22 percent (21 for 95), and 27 percent on turf (10 for 37).

Not surprisingly, the pick six carried for the fourth time in the last five racing days. The carryover Sunday into Wednesday was $265,129.

Saturday, Aug. 3

Saturday was all about the pick six, as the biggest jackpot of summer created a wagering frenzy.

The carryover into Saturday was $619,482; bettors poured another $2,624,378 into the pool.

The $2.6 million figure is interesting. It was the precise amount that turned the Saturday pick six into a zero-takeout wager.

The takeout (exorbitant at 23.68 percent) from the $2.6 million in “new money” was $621,452, mighty close to the actual carryover amount (off by $1,970).

So $2.6 million was bet into the pick six; $2.6 million was paid out.

It was a zero takeout bet. Good opportunity. All you had to be was right. That was not easy. These were the winners:

5. You Know I Know, $23
6. English Crossing, $18.20
7. Sunday Rules, $12.40
8: Lady of Fifty, $23.20
9: Chibita, $19
10: Ethnic Dance (favorite), $5.80

It was a difficult sequence with only one winning favorite. And the shortest price of the day, even-money Include Me Out in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch, finished up the track.

Nonetheless, five winning tickets nailed it, each worth $407,550.

The winning tickets were purchased in surprisingly diverse geographical areas: Del Mar, Betfair Hollywood Park, Gulfstream Park, Emerald Downs and Ontario, Canada.

Racing notes:

An improving 2-year-old colt, Rum Point won race 1 with a 72 Beyer. He is trained by Doug O’Neill and owned by J. Paul Reddam. Stakes next? Why not? His number was only two points lower than the winning figure for the Best Pal the next day.

Holding Glory was well meant in race 5, first leg of the pick six. Making his first U.S. start, the Group 1 winner from Brazil fell short by a diminish half-length. Upset winner You Know I Know paid $23. He is trained by meet leader John Sadler.

Good race-7 debut by 2-year-old California-bred filly Sunday Rules. She popped the gate and wired the filed in 1:03.56, getting a 81 Beyer Figure and likely jumping into the Generous Portion on Aug. 28. The daughter of Tribal Rule is trained by Mike Mitchell and owned by her breeder, Nick Alexander.

The Grade 1 Hirsch is a Polytrack mystery. It was slow (1:42.96). The even-money favorite Include Me Out did not fire. She beat one horse. The winner, Lady of Fifty, earned an 87 Beyer, about as low as it gets at this level.

Sixth-place finisher Via Villaggio might have made a race of it if she had not been eliminated by a slow start that was her own doing. It was a good bet at 26-1, albeit a loser.

As this is written, no obvious alibi for Include Me Out. She did not fire. Don’t look for the Hirsch to produce anything of consequence, unless Include Me Out returns to form this fall at Santa Anita in the Lady’s Secret.

Friday, Aug. 2

The thing about writing a daily handicapping diary is that when you miss a day (or two), it is difficult to catch up. Here’s a quick recap.

As the main-track speed bias dissipates, favorites are tumbling.

Polytrack was relatively simple the first week and a half when speed won everything. But Polytrack changed, as it always does. And with more positional movement in the stretch, the prices are coming home.

How about a $27.40 win payoff in a small field of six? The only shippers from Northern California finished one-two in race 1 as Mondai Mondai (GG last start) won by three-quarters over Sailors Brother (PLN). The $1 exacta paid $50.60.

It seemed the inside lanes were the best place to be on the main track. Perhaps it was not a blatant bias, but it seemed inside-trippers won most main-track races.

You knew that sooner or later, jockey Chantal Sutherland would win a race. She won race 3, her first win at Del Mar as Sutherland-Kruse. Now married, she scored the upset on maiden-20 filly Jaya Roo ($73.80).

Funny tweet after race 6 from @DRFAndersen: “THIS JUST IN: A favorite has won at Del Mar. It happened in the 6th race on Friday. The name of the horse is Zanbo. The payoff 9-5.”

That is how goofy it is at Del Mar. When a favorite wins, it makes news.

Bettors that preferred the Real Good Deal favorites were disappointed. Omega Star proved overrated by this handicapper and finished fourth in his comeback; Tiz a Minister simply is not fast enough to sprint.

He dropped more than 12 lengths off the pace, and rallied to fifth, beaten four and one-half lengths. Tiz a Minister would be interesting in the Del Mar Derby, only because he will stay. He will finish.

Super runner-up finish by Ambitious Brew in the Real Good Deal. Facing winners for the first time, the lightly raced Tizbud gelding was part of the strong pace at seven furlongs, fought back late and finished clear of third. Fine try, only his third start. Have a feeling Ambitious Brew could be a very good one for trainer Marty Jones. He got a 90 Beyer.

The pick six carried again. The two-day carryover, Friday into Saturday, was $619,482.

Thursday, Aug. 1

Favorites have won just 24 percent of the races at Del Mar this summer, yet the pick-six carryover from Thursday into Friday was only the third of the 12-day old meet.

Thursday was so difficult that with two races remaining, all pick six tickets were dead.

The first crop by California stallion Whatsthescript comprises 2-year-olds. Whatsallthedrama became the stallion’s first winner Thursday in race 3. She won by nearly four lengths in 1:11.59 for six furlongs, earning a 63 Beyer. It was not a fast race, but she overcame traffic and was strong late.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Rafael Bejarano teamed for the $10.60 winner. The favorite was first-time starter Rousseau. She finished sixth.

Turf sprints have been dominated by speed. In race 4, a first-level allowance, Sacred Ovation set the pace while pressed by Strong Wind.

The closers made no impact; the speeds finished one-two. Strong Wind got the best of Sacred Ovation and won by 2 1/4 lengths under hot jockey Gary Stevens, 9 for 24 for the meet after Thursday.

Trainer A.C. Avila was due to put one over, which he did in race 5.

Caramuru, making his first start in six months, raced gate to wire at $31.20 in the $50,000 maiden-claiming route. Four of the 20 main-track routes have been won by the pacesetter.

The racetrack played fairly again Thursday. The early-season speed bias has evaporated, at least for now.

Southwest-based trainer Henry Dominguez brought back Wine Police from a layoff of 1 1/2 years in race 6. He sped six furlongs in 1:09.07, winning the second-level allowance by 1 1/2 lengths.

The time was only .03 of a second behind that of last weekend’s Grade 1 Bing Crosby. Wine Police earned a 94 Beyer over a track that is fair and fast.

Another day, and another winning shipper. El Commodore, from Belmont Park, set a fast pace racing a mile on turf in race 7. He went the half in 45.96 seconds, six furlongs in 1:09.71, and kept running.

El Commodore ($13.20) won the mile turf race in 1:32.99 as the course profile shifts. Early on, closers won most turf routes. But two of the last three turf races at a mile were won by the pacesetter; likewise for two of the last three turf races at a mile and a sixteenth.

The turf rails were at 7 feet on Thursday; they go to 14 feet on Friday. There is a chance that speed could become even more effective.

The single-day pick-six carryover into Friday was $101,569.

Wednesday, July 31

Trainer Art Sherman was talking about the bias that characterized the first two weeks of racing at Del Mar. “If you don’t have speed, you’re in trouble,” Sherman said. “In cool weather, the track has been holding moisture.”

But the early-season bias was not the reason Sherman put blinkers on California Chrome. Sherman wanted the 2-year-old to keep his mind on business.

“The blinkers are to get him a little more focused,” Sherman said. “He was ducking and diving last time. With blinkers, there’s been a big change.”

Change was the order of business Wednesday, for horse and racetrack.

For a second straight card, the main track played fairly. Horses rallied wide and from the back. Speed could carry. The best horses won.

While most main-track winners were wide into the lane, it appeared to be a fair track.

As for California Chrome, he also changed. Wearing blinkers and reunited with jockey Alberto Delgado, he raced three wide just off the pace, powered to the lead near the eighth pole, and drew off by 2 3/4 lengths.

He raced five and one-half furlongs in 1:03.48, the fastest Graduation since synthetic was installed in 2007. But the effort earned a mere 83 Beyer. That seems low. It seemed like a performance in the 90s.

California Chrome is expected to start next in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Sept. 4. California Chrome might just be the horse to beat.

Graduation runner-up Moving Desert, the only filly in thje field, finished second.

She will be heard from Aug. 28 in the $100,000 Generous Portion Stakes for Calbred fillies. Graduation third-place finisher Gangnam Guy broke awkwardly, raced inside, and finished okay.

Favorites Willie B Awesome and Solid Wager misfired. Dropping from the Hollywood Juvenile, they finished sixth and fifth, respectively. The Juvenile was a bad race.

* Pick six bettors wagered $1,492,488 chasing a $261,359 carryover. Three winning tickets – all live to the same horse in race 8 – returned $352,891 when favorite Athina Lee won by a half-length. The two-day carryover would have been more than $1 million.

Sunday, July 28

The best horse finished second in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar.

“I didn't have the best of trips out there,” jockey Kevin Krigger told track publicity after Goldencents lost by a head to Points Offthebench.

Goldencents was making his first start since the Preakness, facing older, and shortening to a sprint. He could have overcome every challenge. Unfortunately, it was a bad trip.

Although Goldencents is a fast horse, he was unable to establish position early and was shuffled back. Instead of being on the attack, Krigger and Goldencents were on defense. While the race unfolded around Goldencents, Points Offthebench raced in the clear.

Turning for home, Krigger had a choice to make with Goldencents. He could cut the corner or lose ground and stay wide. He played it safe.

“When we turned for home, they fanned out in front of me, and I had to make a choice,” Krigger said. “I thought for a second about trying to go down inside, but then I went out. I didn't want to get stopped in a race like this.”

Goldencents lost ground into the lane and took aim at Points Offthebench. He could not get by. Goldencents missed by a head while finishing more than three lengths clear of third.

“He fired for me and ran really well,” Krigger said. “I think we've got to be happy with this race. It was a good one.”

It was good, except for one thing: Goldencents lost a race he should have won.

Points Offthebench, given an in-the-clear trip by Mike Smith, won in 1:09.04. He earned a 98 Beyer Speed Figure. Call it a low-rated race. Comma to the Top, dead on the board at 3-1, finished next to last.

The main track Sunday played like the Del Mar Polytrack of old. It was fine to lose ground, race wide, and rally from behind. The inside speed bias prevalent for most of the first two weeks was gone, at least temporarily.

For the second straight Sunday, and only the second time this meet, no one hit the pick six. The carryover into Wednesday was $261,359.

Saturday, July 27

A sucker is born every minute. One of them was at Santa Anita on Saturday, betting the Del Mar races.

The bettor found a horse at Del Mar in race 4 who looked like a proverbial “cinch.” Nine starts into her career, Doinghardtimeagain had finished out of the money only once.

Doinghardtimeagain was odds-on to win the Fleet Treat Stakes, a seven-furlong race for California-bred fillies. She was on a three-race winning streak. If she did not win, she at least would hit the board, right?

According to Del Mar officials, the bettor at Santa Anita wagered $250,000 to show on Doinghardtimeagain, trying for $12,500 in profit if she hit the board. The minimum $2 show payoff in California is $2.10, a nickel for a dollar.

But there are no sure things in racing. There are no lead-pipe cinches. Nothing is preordained. Most horseplayers recognize this truth. Not the sucker on Saturday.

After the “phantom plunger” plunged, the show pools were out of whack – $440,895 of the $506,588 pool was lumped on Doinghardtimeagain.

But what if Doinghardtimeagain had a bad trip? What if she was disqualified by Del Mar stewards or got hurt? What if she had a bad day or was unable to overcome the track bias? There are dozens of ways to lose.

When the phantom plunger bets, other horseplayers exploit the opportunity by betting every other runner to show. When the favorite misfires, which does not happen often, the show payoffs are huge.

With only five starters in the Fleet Treat, skeptical bettors could have risked $4 on the chance that Doinghardtimeagain would blow. The total wagered is $8 (four show bets at $2 each). Two of the four bets were guaranteed. Two had to finish in the money.

And then Doinghardtimeagain blew. The odds-on favorite tossed in a complete dud, much to the surprise of jockey Rafael Bejarano.

“I just don’t know what happened with her,” Bejarano said. “I’m sitting there with a big hold, and we’ve only gone 23 and change, and I’m loving it. But then nothing. She just wasn’t herself today. I don’t have an answer.”

Doinghardtimeagain finished fourth, a neck behind third-place finisher Warren’s Veneda. The show payoffs were sweet. The 6-5 winner, Sweet Marini, returned $8.40 to show; the runner-up, Qiaona, returned $25.40 to show; and Warren’s Veneda paid $26.60. The show payoff totals were $60.40. Not bad for risking $4.

A sucker is born every minute. One of them lost $250,000 on Saturday after making a ridiculous wager on a so-called “lock.”

• Although the speed bias was gone Saturday, the rail was golden.

Kettle Corn saved ground, angled out, and wore down Paynter to win the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap by a half-length. Kettle Corn earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure and a berth in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 25.

Friday, July 26

The racing surface played fairly on Friday, day 8. That is big news considering the severity of the inside-speed bias the first seven days.

Did you like Richard’s Kid in the Grade 3 Cougar Handicap? Me neither.

An 8-year-old whose recent efforts were dismal, Richard’s Kid returned to form Friday on his favorite track. Winless in 10 starts (five third-place finishes) since being sold last summer, Richard’s Kid won the mile-and-a-half Cougar for a second time. He loves Poly.

Doug O’Neill trains Richard’s Kid, now 4 for 7 on the Del Mar main track. He will try to become the first three-time winner of the Pacific Classic when he meets Dullahan, Game On Dude and others in the $1 million race on Aug. 25.

The win was the first by Richard’s Kid since the 2012 Cougar, and served as a reminder to skeptics – never count out an old pro returning to favorite stomping grounds.

Richard’s Kid is always effective at Del Mar – he won Pacific Classic in 2009 and 2010, and the Cougar in 2012 and 2013. He finished in the money three other starts at Del Mar.

So does Richard’s Kid have a shot in the Pacific Classic? Absolutely.

He loves Polytrack, which is not the preferred surface for Game On Dude. As for Dullahan, he showed signs of life last out finishing third in a Grade 3. But it was his only good race this year after a futile spring in Dubai.

In race 4, Lady Asano rallied from more than 12 lengths off a fast half-mile (46.98 seconds) to win a first-level main-track allowance for fillies and mares. She won geared down by more than five lengths and earned an 84 Beyer. It was her first start since March.

John Sadler trains Lady Asano, a candidate for the Torrey Pines for 3-year-old fillies Sept. 1. She would get pace to run at, because that stakes is the expected comeback for Beholder. The unbeaten Sweet Lulu also is being considered for the Torrey Pines.

Favorites through eight days of racing have won 29 percent (20 for 69), yet there has only been one pick-six carryover.

Thursday, July 25

Clear skies and warmer weather (74 degrees) on Thursday did not temper the speed bias.

Polytrack this summer is a highway for speed. Thursday, the bias was extreme.

All four sprints were won by rail-skimming front-runners. Rally-wide closers made zero impact. And the synthetic surface is quick. Race-7 winner No Silent whistled six and one-half furlongs in 1:15.82. He earned a 97 Beyer in his first try on a surface other than turf.

No Silent, and every other sprint winner Thursday, was flattered by the bias. It is visible watching the races. Make the lead and the rail, and be home free. The bias is corroborated by chart footnotes of the four sprints Thursday.

Race-1 winner Acute “dueled inside.” She paid $12.

Race-2 winner Cadron “went up inside to duel for the lead.” The favorite, she paid $3.60.

Race-5 winner Sugar Spice “dueled inside.” She paid $8.

Race-7 winner No Silent “dueled inside.” He paid $23.80.

Seven days into the meet, the main-track bias is blatant – 19 of the 30 main-track sprints have been won by the pacesetter.

At six and one-half furlongs, pacesetters are 4 for 4. At five and one-half furlongs (2-year-olds), pacesetters are 5 for 6.

The two-turn bias is less severe, though closers struggle. Four of the 10 routes were won by a horse setting the pace or within a head of the lead; only three routes were won from more than three lengths back.

Once upon a time, Polytrack was a dream for late-runners. Not anymore.

This summer at Del Mar, Polytrack is a front-runner’s paradise.

Wednesday, July 24

Richard Mandella trains Indy Point and Station House, new shooters that arrived with a splash Wednesday at Del Mar.

Indy Point made a stunning U.S. debut in the $90,000 Wickerr, race 7. A three-time Group 1 winner in Argentina, he raced a mile on turf in 1:32.74 and earned a 101 Beyer.

Station House was an unraced 2-year-old before Wednesday. His powerful debut in a turf route, race 3, stamps him as one of elite California juveniles.

Both horses figure as major players in the months ahead, even after only one local start.

Indy Point, 5 of 12 in Argentina, worked super for the Wickerr. Mandella was bullish, but warned some of his South Americans needed a race. He cited Gentlemen as an example.

Gentlemen finished last in his U.S. debut June 19, 1996. A month later on July 27 at Del Mar, Gentlemen won an allowance and the following year became one of the country’s top older horses winning the Pimlico Special, Hollywood Gold Cup and Pacific Classic.

Indy Point, is he another Gentlemen?

Gary Stevens gave Indy Point a terrific ride, saving ground behind the pace. When he pushed the button, Indy Point shot clear. He won without being hard ridden.

The next start for Indy Point will be in a graded stakes. Good luck to his rivals.

The 2-year-old colt is Station House. Mandella entered him in sprint July 7 at Betfair Hollywood Park, but he did not draw in from the also-eligible list. Station Point, instead, went long first out.

Stevens put him on the lead and he was never headed. He ran a mile on turf in 1:35.42 and earned a 73 Beyer while visually impressive. Not bad for a 2-year-old first-time starter. He could run back in another mile turf race Sept. 4 – the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf.

At some point in the future, the Rock Hard Ten colt will be tested on dirt. For now, Station House can be considered the local leader for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Finally, race-6 allowance winner Sweet Lulu deserves honorable mention. Unbeaten after three starts, the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee won in 1:35.99 for a mile and earned a 99 Beyer. Her long-range target is the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion Stakes on Sept. 21 at Parx Racing.

* A pick-six carryover into Wednesday of $238,499 attracted $1,488,621 in new money. At the end of the day, there were 66 tickets with six winners, each worth $15,677.

Sunday, July 21

The Del Mar stewards can be thanked for creating a pick-six carryover for Wednesday.

Stewards disqualified Cosmic Heat from victory Sunday in the ninth and final race, ruling that he drifted in and interfered with third-place finisher Fighting On.

Cosmic Heat was 6.50-1. The pick six would have been hit. Instead, stewards disqualified him to third. The runner-up, Centenario de Oro ($58.40), was moved up, and the pick-six carryover for Wednesday was $238,499.

It was a questionable disqualification, and the call did not have to be made. The original order of finish should have been allowed to stand. Cosmic Heat was rallying to victory in deep stretch on the outside. He drifted in slightly, even while jockey Agapito Delgadillo whipped left-handed.

The front-running Centenario de Oro drifted out slightly while tiring. Meanwhile, the jockey on Fighting On, Edwin Maldonado, tried to squeeze between the two. He did not make it. Fighting On steadied in deep stretch. That is what happens when a horse tries to go into a disappearing hole that may or may not exist.

But the stewards ruled that Cosmic Heat was responsible for interfering with Fighting On. They placed Cosmic Heat behind Fighting On, which elevated Centenario de Oro to the top spot.

In the short term, the disqualification will be good for business – a big pick-six carryover for Wednesday, along with a $46,740 carryover in the super high five. The long-term ramifications are less concrete.

Horseplayers and horsemen only want consistency from stewards. The call on race 9 was not consistent with previous “non-disqualifications.”

Saturday, July 20

As the cool weather continues (cloudy, 72 degrees), the track profile remains tilted in favor of speed. Seven races Saturday on Polytrack produced three pacesetting winners, two pace-pressing winners, and two who rallied from more than three lengths behind.

During the first four days of the cool-weather (so far) meet, speed has been sensational, and closers have made minimal impact. This is a precursor to the fall of 2014, when Del Mar will host a fall meet due to the closure of Betfair Hollywood Park.

The weather in November and early December at Del Mar is cool. The average high temperature at Del Mar in November is 69 degrees. As long as Polytrack remains and the weather stays cool, handicappers wagering on Del Mar races probably should focus on speed.

Sooner or later, the temperature will change. After all, August is the warmest month. The average high temperature at Del Mar in August is 77 degrees. When the weather warms, late runners might actually have a chance on Polytrack.

Perhaps someday Del Mar will replace its synthetic surface with dirt. One can hope.

The 2-year-old Guns Loaded came out firing in race 6. A son of win-early stallion D’wildcat, Guns Loaded raced gate to wire in 1:04.51 and earned a 73 Beyer Speed Figure. Third-place finisher Southern Freedom rallied from far back to finish a close third in a solid debut.

Hail Mary earned a 91 Beyer while racing gate to wire in race 7, a first-level allowance sprint for fillies and mares timed in 1:09.92.

Jeranimo returned to form with an impressive last-to-first rally in the Grade 1 Eddie Read at 1 1/8 miles on turf. The 7-year-old has won 10 races and more than $1.4 million from 35 starts. There wasn’t much behind him Saturday.

Joe Talamo broke a 44-race losing streak by riding Surf N Ski to victory in race 1. Talamo won three Saturday. Leading rider Rafael Bejarano also won three and is 11 for 33 after four days of racing. Victor Espinoza is 0 for 15.

Shippers continue to win. European import Magic Channel ($13.40) overcame early trouble to win the second race, for 3-year-old claimers at a mile on turf. Indiana Downs shipper Closing Range ($35.40) won the Osunitas Stakes in race 5. Shippers went 2 for 15 on Saturday.

Favorites on Saturday were 2 for 10 (meet cumulative 11 for 36).

Friday, July 19

All four sprint races Friday were won in gate-to-wire fashion as the speed-friendly profile continued. After three days, 8 of 14 main-track sprints had been won by the pacesetter. All 14 were won by a horse positioned within two lengths of the lead at the first call.

Let’s hope the bias continues. Horseplayers appreciate a consistent surface.

First post Friday was 4 p.m. The cool weather (70 degrees at first post, overcast skies) may be contributing to the plethora of front-running winners. Let’s see what happens when the temperature warms up. Chances are a few winners will rally from off the pace.

The 2-year-old filly Sprouts won her third straight, wiring the field as the 2-5 favorite in the $100,000 CTBA Stakes. She ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.01 and earned a 66 Beyer Speed Figure. Pace rival Harlington’s Rose cracked after a half-mile. She had missed training time after getting sick, and it showed.

The “shipper category” that already produced five winners the first two days went 3 for 11 on Friday – two horses that last raced at Golden Gate won,  another whose last race was at Pleasanton. The total after three days and 26 races: 10 winners by shippers.

Leading jockey Rafael Bejarano (8 for 24 overall) and Martin Garcia each won three races. Meanwhile, Joe Talamo was winless with seven mounts and entered the weekend 0 for 22 at Del Mar. Since his most recent win on July 7, Talamo has lost 44 straight.

Trainer Bob Baffert won three races Friday, while leading trainer Peter Miller (four wins) extended his win streak by striking with layoff runner My Slew ($12.40) in race 3. Miller won at least one race each of the first three days. John Sadler and Doug O’Neill both are 1 for 11.

Favorites on Friday were 3 for 8 (meet cumulative 9 for 26).

Thursday, July 18

The racing surface at Del Mar changed from Wednesday to Thursday. No surprise. Polytrack is temperamental. Change is normal.

And the suggestion of a speed bias does not imply that Thursday’s front-running winners were somehow undeserving. They were worthy. All eight winners were fast horses who outran their competition. And on the main track, they all got an assist from the speed-friendly surface.

Compared with Wednesday’s opening day, the Polytrack was quicker Thursday. And when the Thursday starters run back, handicappers must determine whether they benefited from, or were compromised by, the racetrack.

Certainly, no one was going to catch front-running speedster Reneesgotzip in race 7. Reneesgotzip is a Grade 1 winner who was working fast for her comeback. She was one of three main contenders in the six-furlong race. But her 21.75-second opening quarter-mile was the fastest at Del Mar since 2010. Reneesgotzip figured to tire.

Instead, Reneesgotzip opened up by 4 1/2 lengths at the quarter pole, was in front by 7 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole, and coasted home by 5 1/4 in 1:09.59. She earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

The faster the racing surface, the more likely it is that speed will carry. That was the case Thursday, when Polytrack produced final times roughly two-fifths of a second faster than Wednesday.

On Thursday, there was minimal positional change in the stretch, meaning the positions horses were in at the top of the lane were about where they finished. Most horses looked like they were merely running in place.

Two main-track winners won from slightly off the pace, both with ground-saving trips – the favorites J and S Express (race 4) and Foogard (race 6).

While the speed bias Thursday was mild, the track profile is unmistakable. Two days into the meet, speed has ruled the main track. All 10 sprints were won by horses within two lengths of the lead after the opening quarter-mile.

The shipper category that produced three winners Wednesday went 2 for 11 on Thursday. A “shipper” at Del Mar is any horse whose most recent start was at a track other than Santa Anita or Betfair Hollywood Park. Both “shipper winners” Thursday were from Northern California, and both where favored. She’s All Yours ($4.20), from Pleasanton, won race 2. Foogard ($4.80), from Golden Gate, won race 6.

Rafael Bejarano won four races, and favorites were 5 for 8 (meet cumulative 6 for 18). And finally, a tip of the cap to a colleague: Southern California handicapper Bob Ike (Los Angeles Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune) swept the Thursday card by picking the winners of all eight races.

Wednesday, July 17

Del Mar’s opening day reminded bettors to look closely at shippers. The first race was won by a horse from SunRay Park, the last race was won by a horse from Oaklawn Park, and 12 horses who last raced at Golden Gate accounted for two wins, two seconds, and a third.

While the main track played fairly, all five sprints were won by horses who were forwardly placed. The turf course also played fairly, although with the rails down, late runners held the edge over speed.

A good 2-year-old filly won race 5 for California-bred maidens. Moving Desert, a third-time starter by first-crop stallion Desert Code, won by three lengths in 58.78 seconds and earned a 72 Beyer Speed Figure. By comparison, the favorite for the CTBA Stakes on Friday is Sprouts, a 2-year-old filly who won a stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park last out with a 66 Beyer.

A likely next race for Moving Desert is the Generous Portion Stakes for California-bred fillies Aug. 28. Based on her maiden win, and pending the outcome of the CTBA Stakes, the Blake Heap-trained Moving Desert could be favored in the Generous Portion.

A filly to watch from race 5 is runner-up Betty Bing Bing. A first-time starter, she was in traffic early, followed the eventual winner on the turn, and raced evenly late. It was a good debut, and maidens trained by Peter Eurton typically improve with racing. The cold-in-the-betting favorite was 7-2 My Lucky Rose. She broke slowly and raced near the back in an inconclusive debut.

The Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on turf was run in two divisions – race 6 in 1:33.88 and race 9 in 1:33.96. Notwithstanding the time, race 9 was a better race. Sharp winner Rising Legend closed more than six lengths into a 23.43 final quarter. Relatively slow fractions (47.28 and 1:10.53) contributed to the slower time than the Oceanside’s first division.

Joel Rosario, the leading rider at Del Mar each summer from 2009-11, won four races on opening day before returning to New York for the Saratoga meet, which begins Friday. Peter Miller, the leading trainer at Del Mar in 2012, won with two of five starters. Favorites on opening day went 1 for 10.

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Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
As soon as the sun starts shining more and the track heats up, it will get softer and favor closers. So far, there has been a marine layer over the track each day keeping it relatively cool and favoring speed.
Victor More than 1 year ago
Wondering if the way the track is playing this year as opposed to last is in anyway affected by Joel Rosario having left for the east coast. His preferred riding style is sit, circle, big finish. He rode way the best horse so many times that I wonder if they would have won regardless of tactics choices in some cases?
rvraynmary More than 1 year ago
Keep up the good work Brad. I presume when you write about shippers you mean horses that haven't run at Santa Anita or BHP. Is this correct? stuckinarizona