07/16/2012 2:36PM

Del Mar: Texas trainers give meet a boost

Shigeki Kikkawa
Dallas Keen is back for another Del Mar meet.

The posted speed limit in some parts of West Texas is 80 miles per hour, although you’re really not supposed to drive that fast while pulling a horse trailer.

Considering the temperature in Dallas-Fort Worth in July and August, and the allure of spending the second half of the summer at a beach town near San Diego, trainers such as Cody Autrey, Jack Bruner, Dallas Keen, and Christie Grisham can be forgiven for hustling a little bit to get to the West Coast in recent days.

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“It’s very hot at this time of year,” Keen said.

The quartet of Texas trainers will be based at Del Mar this summer, providing the Southern California Thoroughbred circuit with a much-needed boost of race-ready horses.

For Bruner, 47, who trains exclusively for top Texas owner Tom Durant, and Grisham, 43, Del Mar is a new venture. Autrey, 32, and Keen, 55, have raced here before. Keen raced in California for four years in the late 1990’s as well as last year. Autrey had a small stable at Del Mar in 2007 and 2008.

Their presence this summer is a result of a break in the Texas Thoroughbred calendar and financial opportunities in California.

“We decided it was time to get out of Texas,” said Durant, who has sent 23 horses to Del Mar.

The Lone Star Park meeting ended earlier this month. Retama Park, near San Antonio, does not start until October. Part of the lure was Del Mar’s two-tiered bonus programs for out-of-state shippers.

For the second year, Del Mar is paying bonuses to the owners of horses who race at the meeting from out of state, provided the horses are not first-time starters and have not raced in California in the last six months.

The bonus has two features – a $1,000 bonus for all starters, regardless of the type of races, and a 25-percent bonus to horses who earn purses in overnight races.

The Texans are not waiting long to take advantage. Autrey has starters on Wednesday’s opening day and on Thursday. Keen has runners on Wednesday and Friday.

Autrey had mixed results here in the past. He had two winners in 2007, but had a medication violation that led to a seven-day suspension and a fine of $12,500.

For some of their horses, the trip West will be a one-way journey. Durant does not expect to have a full trailer bound for Texas in September.

“I’ve got a large crop of yearlings,” he said. “The idea is to bring less home.”

Racing at Del Mar will mark quite a change from last year, when the Durant-Bruner team took a break in late summer before Bruner went to Zia Park in New Mexico for the fall. Durant, the all-time leading owner at Lone Star Park, has been preparing for the Del Mar trip for months.

“I went out and bought horses I can take out of state,” he said. “We feel pretty good with what we’re bringing.”

The group includes the 2-year-old maiden special weight winner Double Ours, a Florida-bred who has made two starts.

Last year at Del Mar, Keen had 1 win from 19 starters and 5 third-place finishes. Though the number of wins was low, several of the 12 horses he brought were claimed, which made the meeting more financially viable for his clients.

“We did all right with what we brought,” Keen said.

This year, Keen has been planning for Del Mar since early in the year, and has brought 30 horses. Autrey and Grisham have brought much smaller teams.

Keen may have a smaller stable after the first weekend, since three are entered in the first-ever Del Mar Paddock Sale on Sunday evening. On the same day, he plans to start Don’tgetmadalexis in the $150,000 San Clemente Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on turf.

Regardless, the 2012 Keen Stable will be more competitive, he said.

“We looked for horses that seem to fit on the Polytrack,” Keen said of Del Mar’s synthetic track. “You’ve got to have the stock to come to California.”