07/16/2012 2:33PM

Del Mar opener the real change of season

Shigeki Kikkawa
Holy Candy will make his first start on grass in the Oceanside.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The calendar says summer began three weeks ago. But loyal fans of California racing know otherwise. Seasons do not change by month of the year. Seasons change according to where horses are running.

Winter always starts at Santa Anita, and spring always begins at Hollywood Park. As for summer, that starts at Del Mar on Wednesday at 2 p.m. when a raucous crowd of more than 40,000 fans cheer maiden claimers in the opening race of the 2012 summer meet.

[DEL MAR: Get PPs and watch the full opening-day card live]

“It’s one of the best meets of the year,” jockey Rafael Bejarano said.

“The best horses, they prepare for Del Mar.”

Bejarano is right. Acclamation runs July 21, Amazombie returns on July 29, and Include Me Out will start on Aug. 4. Their respective targets happen to be the first three Grade 1’s of the 37-day meet – the Eddie Read, Bing Crosby and Clement L. Hirsch.

By then, handicappers and horsemen may have adjusted to the change from Los Angeles-area tracks. “All the racetracks in California are kind of different,” Bejarano said. “Hollywood Park, Santa Anita and Del Mar – they’re all different.”

Five years after Polytrack was installed, the surface remains a challenge. Del Mar track bias changes often, and is influenced by weather. The track can become speed-friendly when the temperature is cool and closer-friendly when the weather is warm.

One thing that remains consistent is prize money. “It sure helps to go down there and run for major purses,” trainer Bill Spawr said. “It’s all about the purses, all about the money.”

Spawr entered two on opening day – Palio Prince in race 2, and Private Bounty in race 7. Both have established Del Mar form.

“I still think the horses that ran well there last year will continue to do that.” Spawr said. “We claimed a lot of live horses that are primarily synthetic horses. We claimed around the idea of Del Mar.”

Private Bounty, third in all three starts at Del Mar last summer, was taken by Spawr for $16,000. He drops in class first off the claim, signaling an early trend as horsemen place horses aggressively to exploit the purse structure. The $12,500 claiming race has a purse of $28,000.

“Guys are going to be more aggressive to try to win those purses,” trainer John Sadler said. “I think you’ll see a lot of claiming.” Sadler was leading Del Mar trainer in 2008 and 2009, and is expected to be among the leaders this summer. He enters with momentum.

Sadler won three graded stakes last weekend at Hollywood with top horses likely to resurface at Del Mar. Lady of Shamrock won the American Oaks and is expected to return Aug. 18 in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. Switch won the Grade 2 A Gleam and could run Aug. 19 in the Grade 3 Rancho Bernardo. He also won the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile with Scherer Magic, whose sights are on the Grade 2 Best Pal on Aug. 5 and Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Sept. 5.

In the short term, Sadler’s opening-day attention is on split divisions of the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile on turf – races 6 and 9 on the 10-race card.

The Sadler-trained Koast faces Boat Trip in the deeper division, race 6. Sadler-trained Holy Candy is expected to start favored in the second division of the Oceanside, race 9.

Koast is running long for the first time after defeating a good field of older second-level allowance horses at six furlongs.

“I like that he rated so well his last race,” Sadler said. “He’s been running with older horses his last two starts, and beat them last time, so it’s time to find out if he can stretch out.”

Julien Leparoux, who will return to Saratoga for the opening card on Friday, rides Koast. Sadler, whose main rider was Joel Rosario before he left for New York, said allegiance to jockeys will depend on who is producing.

“Whoever’s doing best is the guy that’s going to get the mounts,” Sadler said.

Boat Trip, who won his third straight on June 22 in a $74,000 turf stakes at Hollywood, is expected to start favored for trainer Mike Pender and jockey Jose Valdivia in race 6. Midnight Crooner returns from a freshening for Bob Baffert; European import Facoltoso looms the upsetter in his U.S. debut for trainer Simon Callaghan.

The Oceanside begins the three-race series of Del Mar grass races for 3-year-olds. The Grade 2 La Jolla Handicap is Aug. 11, while the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby is Sept. 2.

Holy Candy is the horse to beat in race 9. Sadler considered starting him July 4 the Grade 2 Swaps, but passed because of the lack of pace that would have compromised Holy Candy, a closer. The Swaps was won by the front-runner. Secondly, Holy Candy’s major owner, Jenny Craig, lives nearby and is a longtime supporter of Del Mar racing.

“With Mrs. Craig and Del Mar, it’s a natural connection,” Sadler said.

“So I just opted for the Oceanside.”

The Oceanside will be the first start on turf for Holy Candy. Sadler noted that his full sister Holloween Candy was a fast turf filly, and the colt finished strongly when Sadler worked him on grass. Garrett Gomez takes over for Rosario.

Main rivals for Holy Candy include My Best Brother, who has improved since Julio Canani changed equipment two starts back, and turf allowance winner Old Time Hockey.

Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
I can only comment on Saratoga live racing. Delmar live is probably a nice place to visit. The Aesthetics are nice, and if they have more claiming races, thats cool by me, because those are the races that have more longshots.
rfbeaks More than 1 year ago
I have been going to Del Mar for 40 years and my wife is from upstate New York so we visit Saratoga every summer. Racing is great at both venues but no one can deny the weather at Del Mar is 1000x nicer than hot, muggy upstate New York. On top of that, their are many areas of Saratoga where you have to dress to have entrance whereas at Del Mar shorts are welcome in the Clubhouse. The racing is great at both places which is most important but the "other" things are much better at Del Mar.
Nick Arden More than 1 year ago
Saratoga has the better meet despite the fact that the NYRA sucks, the weather is pretty nice during the 50% of the time when it is miserable, you are stuck in upstate New York which is mega-depressing and there are a bunch of New Yorkers around.
Kevin Casey More than 1 year ago
I'll be there July 28th with a bus from Vermont...Believe it !!!!!!!
Kevin Casey More than 1 year ago
Toga is the best....We don't need the ocean to get people to the track...It's all about the horses....Toga has the best 2 year old races anywhere !!!
Yagbolsco More than 1 year ago
Del Mar beats Saratoga's handle anytime. fact
Ryan Jones More than 1 year ago
are you serious with that?
Mike D More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Give me Saratoga over Del Mar. Not because of the racibg per se but because I prefer Dirt over Poly. Like grandpa said; " If I can't plant flowers or veggies in it, it ain't racing!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amen. Del Mar is only the end of the Stronach-free part of the calendar. Saratoga is where the calendar changes. Saratoga doesn't have to bribe out-of-state horsemen to run.
robert More than 1 year ago
No, New York just bribes everybody with their casino money. Once the lawmakers figure out how to get that money they will take from race purses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you, Robert.
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
And after that happens Saratoga will still be a better meet than DelMar.
Dawood K More than 1 year ago
The cheaper the races the harder it is to handicap. I meant one has to play as many horses as possible in those cheap claimers to catch a winner. At times you may catch a longshot which makes it worth while, but if the chalk wins then its a grind, especially in exotic races. I remember playing a $ 2880 Pick 6 ticket on 7-13-12 at hollywood park, got back $850 for a winning ticket. Thats the nature of this brutal game when cheap claimers are running in almost 90% the races. Never used to be like this even 30yrs ago at southern california tracks.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Iin all due RESPECT Dawood, You are 100% wrong. The average mutual price of a claiming race is $9.40 compaired to $14.60 for all othersThat simply means the PUBLIC can figure them better then all others,and when PITTED against their own kind they are MORE then reliable.Money has FLOWED in the wrong direction for years, do we REALLY need ANOTHER retired 3 year old MILLIONAIRE??.Whitout these claiming WARRIORS this game is OVER. And these Horse's are for sale, so when a Trainer has his Horse "SET" he will go all out becuase he doesn't KNOW for sure if he's going to get his Horse back. I know what a $20K claimer is worth, but I have NO idea what an ALLOWANCE Horse is worth, or, IF the Trainer is JUST working the Horse out, NOT on my DIME.................
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
richard barton More than 1 year ago
Those numbers are totally hilarious!!!
Ronnie Malo Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
I'd like to know where those figures come from. More longshots come from horses comming from the lower levels of claiming mainly restricted claiming, and from maiden claiming races, and races on the Turf.
Saw Mill Worker More than 1 year ago
Will be the same horses,short fields short odds. Even more so with " 5 " days of racing.
Steven More than 1 year ago
96 Horses for 10 races on opening day. Reality sets in on day 2. 8 races 62 horses entered.
Al More than 1 year ago
That Thursday card is going to be the norm and not the exception for weekdays when we get into the heart of the meet come early August.
Saw Mill Worker More than 1 year ago
How true about Thursdays card. An average of 7.75 horses a race an cheap races.
Mike D More than 1 year ago
Sadly, Delmar tries to compete with Saratoga but cannot. 6 horse fields (before scratches) just doesn't excite me as a bettor. I have said that Saratoga should also go to 5 days/week racing.
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
When Finger Lake horses start competing at Del Mar then we'll talk about Cheap . LOL.
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
So thats 9.6 hhorses per race on Del Mar opener. Saratoga will be running 9.3 on the opener 93 horses for 10 races( 5) of which are Mdn races. Del Mar will run 72 in 8 races the same day, 9 per race. You guys are full of bull and I'm sure you will not like to face reality .
Al More than 1 year ago
Woodbine still beats them both Friday - 9 races with average field size of 10.5.
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
Nice !! If you like a Canadian Super SiZe takeout . LOL.
Getta Lyfe More than 1 year ago
bsb, enjoy your large fields of cheap claimers and state-bred maiden claimers. I'm sure the races will be great when the horses ship in from Los Alamitos, Turf Paradise, Emerald Downs Portland Meadows and from the northern fair circuit. LOL Keep thinking the racing is better out there in fairytale land.
richard barton More than 1 year ago
Yea, but their California horses, used to basking in the sun and frolicking at the beach! Worth two of your upstate N. Y. horses any day of the week, and Sunday, too.
Bsb Jaws More than 1 year ago
I had a 9/2 shot today from Emerald . LOL. They wouldn't have to ship in from Los Al though, its only up the street. LOL. I know NY bs when I hear it. Go ride a subway & don't forget your umbrella & raincoat ! LOL. The racing has been great !!! Five long shot winners for me in 10 races !! Thanks for noticing !! I'm pretty sure you'll have trouble picking five winners of any price the entire Saratoga meet. LOL.