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Timing is everything here
DEL MAR, Calif. - By a margin of four days, Ninebanks is eligible to start in Saturday's $75,000 Wickerr Handicap at Del Mar.
The one-mile turf race is restricted to nonwinners of a first-place purse of $40,000 at a mile or over since May 1. Ninebanks earned $120,000 when he won the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Handicap at Bay Meadows on April 26.
Since then, Ninebanks has been a close second in the minor Foster City Handicap on June 15 and last behind the undefeated Candy Ride in the American Handicap over 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park on July 4.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is throwing out the loss in the American and considers the 5-year-old Ninebanks to be a contender in the Wickerr, which drew a field of 10.
"I think Candy Ride is a special horse and that was a factor for everybody," Hollendorfer said. "I've got no other excuse other than he didn't like the mile and an eighth. He's run several good miles."
So has the competition.
Touch of the Blues is the 122-pound topweight, trying to end an eight-race losing streak dating back to the 2002 Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. He was third in the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park on May 26.
Thady Quill won the 2001 Wickerr Handicap, but has been bothered by injury in the last few years. Thady Quill, 6, is making his first start since winning the Barbados Gold Cup in the Caribbean in March.
Suances has been plagued by injuries as well. A 6-year-old trained by Darrell Vienna, he has made just four starts in three years, a span that includes wins in the 2002 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Handicap and Dallas Turf Cup Handicap. He finished fourth in the United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park in July 2002, but emerged from that race with a knee injury.
The Wickerr Handicap is his first start since that race.
No prep for Reba's Gold
The $250,000 San Diego Handicap on Sunday is considered a prep to the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 24, but it is the focus of the meeting for owner Alex Trebek and trainer Dan Hendricks.
They are starting Reba's Gold in the San Diego over 1 1/16 miles and do not consider the 6-year-old to be a contender for the Pacific Classic, which is run over 1 1/4 miles. Instead, the San Diego could lead to a start in the $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap over a mile on Sept. 1.
"This is a big race," Hendricks said of the San Diego.
And a difficult one. The Grade 2 San Diego is likely to draw 10 runners, including Bayou the Moon, Danthebluegrassman, Daunting, Gondolieri, Joey Franco, Legendary Weave, Primerica, Publication, and Western Pride.
Joey Franco, seeking his fourth consecutive stakes win, will go favored.
Reba's Gold finished third in the Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park on June 14, but Hendricks said the horse was eager in that race after a quick workout on June 8.
"I thought he ran his best race last time even though he was too close to the pace," he said. "I want to see him sitting just behind the front end."
Hendricks's stable is already off to a fast start at this meeting. On Wednesday, Don'tsellmeshort pulled an upset in the Graduation Stakes for California-breds. From a stakes perspective, Hendricks's best meeting at Del Mar came in 1992 when Bountiful Native won three stakes.
A win by Reba's Gold on Sunday would move the stable one win closer to equaling that milestone, with five weeks of the season remaining. "The whole barn is doing good," Hendricks said. "But he seems right at the right time."
Anson cutting back
Owner Ron Anson, a member of the board of directors of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said earlier this week that he intends to cut his racing stable from 20 runners to approximately 10 and sell a few broodmares at auctions later this year.
Anson cited the rising costs of workers' compensation insurance in California as a factor in his decision. But during the last year, his stable has not included a major stakes winner to help carry the barn.
"I've been cutting back my racing stable for six months," he said. "I want to have fun and not get blown away by the workers' comp that's killing me. This is pure economics. I can't spend $1 million to $1.5 million on my racing hobby."
Anson and his wife Susie employ Alfredo Marquez as a private trainer. In July, the stable suffered the death of Tali'sluckybusride, the winner of the 2001 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita. She was stricken by a virus, Ron Anson said.
The Ansons also campaigned Lord Sterling, who finished third in the 2000 Japan Cup Dirt.
Meet numbers up in first week
Del Mar posted substantial gains in important business categories through Monday, the first six days of the 43-day meeting.
In the first week, overall handle reached $78.4 million, a gain of 12 percent, according to the track's chief financial officer, Michael Ernst. The ontrack handle increased 3.2 percent, inter-track wagering handle improved 5.1 percent, and handle from account wagering sources grew 46.4 percent. Ontrack attendance was up 4.8 percent through Monday, Ernst said.
The growth was a pleasant surprise to track officials after a strong start to the 2002 meeting.
"Last year, we had a strong increase over the previous year," Ernst said. "If we had matched that, we'd have been pleased."
The growth in ontrack attendance and handle is a reverse from the recent Hollywood Park meeting, which had sizeable declines in those categories. Hollywood Park finished nearly even in overall handle after account wagering figures were included.
Congaree's next start uncertain
Congaree worked six furlongs in 1:12.80 on Thursday, his first workout since scoring his eighth stakes win in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 13.
Trainer Bob Baffert said that no decision has been reached on whether Congaree will start in the Pacific Classic.
"I won't make that call until I get closer to the time," Baffert said.
The Gold Cup was Congaree's first win over 1 1/4 miles although he was second by a head in the Santa Anita Handicap over that distance in March.