08/10/2017 11:16AM

Miller unhappy with Del Mar surface, plans to cut back on runners


DEL MAR, Calif. – Peter Miller has been the most active trainer in the first three weeks of Del Mar’s summer season, with 69 starters through Wednesday, the 16th day of the 36-day meeting.

Miller had 10 starters on the July 19 opening-day program. He is unlikely to have that many during the current five-day racing week, which goes through Sunday.

Expressing concern about the condition of the track and how his horses have performed, Miller said Wednesday he plans to cut back his number of runners.

“It’s too deep and too tiring,” he said. “The horses that run good over the track will run back.”

Miller had two runners Wednesday and none Thursday. He had one entered for Friday and two for Saturday’s 10-race program. He will start Pedro Cerrano in a $16,000 claimer and An Ocala Ten in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes for 2-year-olds on Saturday.

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Miller said he is at a disadvantage by basing most of his 95-horse stable at the San Luis Rey Downs training center in Bonsall, about 30 minutes from Del Mar, and keeping about 20 horses at the racetrack.

“I had no trouble shipping to Los Al or Santa Anita, but it doesn’t seem like I can ship into Del Mar,” Miller said.

“I don’t want to be a poster child of being a sore loser. I’ve lost plenty. If I’d have known the track would be like this, I would put my first string down there. I don’t want to do that midstream.

“The meet turns into somewhat of a wash, and it’s frustrating.”

Miller suffered a notable setback when Surrender Now finished last in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes for 2-year-olds fillies last Saturday. The winner of the Landaluce Stakes at Santa Anita on July 2, Surrender Now has been sidelined with a tibia injury, he said.

Despite his concerns, Miller was fourth in the trainers’ standings with seven wins through Wednesday, two victories behind joint leaders Doug O’Neill and Phil D’Amato.

Other trainers have expressed similar sentiments. During training Wednesday, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert described the surface as “tiring.”

Jeff Mullins on Tuesday transferred his well-regarded 2-year-old Tatters to Riches to San Luis Rey Downs for a workout and then shipped the colt back to Del Mar the same day. Mullins said his stable has seen soft-tissue injuries this summer. He described the track as “deep and loose.”

Track officials are quick to point out a favorable safety record in the first 16 days of the meeting, during which one horse has suffered a catastrophic injury during racing on the main track. Another horse was fatally injured in a turf race.

Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s vice president of racing, said he has heard complaints from some trainers.

“We recognize that one racetrack is not going to suit all horses and all trainers,” he said. “That’s one thing I’ve discovered in 40 years of doing this. It’s deeper and slower, and it won’t be suitable to everybody.”

Overall, the highly anticipated meeting has been well supported by owners and trainers. Through Wednesday, fields have averaged 8.45 runners per race compared with 8.17 after a similar time period last year. The entire 2016 summer meeting averaged 8.31 runners per race.

◗ Jockey Geovanni Franco will be sidelined for at least two weeks, and possibly for more than a month, because of a recurrence of a knee injury sustained earlier this year, according to his agent, James Giannone.

Franco has won with two of 23 mounts at the summer meeting.

Giannone said Franco has aggravated a knee injury sustained in a spill at Churchill Downs on May 12.

“He’ll be out for a while,” Giannone said. “We’ll probably be out for a couple of weeks. It could be six to eight. We need to let the swelling go down.”

Franco, 26, won four stakes during the Oaklawn Park meeting this year, including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on Inside Straight.