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Updated on 09/18/2011 1:31AM
Twenty names you can bank on at the windows
While more than 200 different trainers will start horses at Del Mar during the 2006 race meet, the 20 horsemen below are sure to have a significant impact on the season. Though they represent less than a tenth of the Del Mar trainer population, they combined last year to win nearly half the races.
Listed alphabetically, the following trainer capsules provide horseplayers with a preliminary look at the horsemen expected to dominate the California racing scene for 43 days this summer. Unless noted otherwise, statistics are Del Mar-specific.
Parimutuel value is negligible with Baffert, whose horses typically are hammered by adoring bettors - a win bet on every Baffert-trained Del Mar starter the past five years produced a 47-cent loss for each $2 wager. The Del Mar dilemma is that Baffert wins despite underlay prices, as a 21-percent win rate the past five seasons attests. Nearly half of his wins since 2002 have been with 2-year-olds, including nine last year. First- and second-start juveniles are well meant; four of his six layoff winners last year were droppers. The bottom line is that Baffert runners start at low odds, yet win about one in five. It makes them a necessary evil in consecutive-race wagers. Baffert ranked second in the standings with 22 wins last summer; the high payoffs were $13.80 and $10.80. Whoopee.
How good is Canani at Del Mar? The past eight years, his worst meet was 7 for 39 in 2002. He is amazingly consistent at Del Mar, where 35 of his last 62 wins were on turf. He excels with Euro shippers, such as Blackdoun (horse of the meet in 2004), as well as layoff runners. The past five years, Canani runners coming off layoffs of more than 45 days won 35 percent (16 for 46) and generated a $3.91 ROI. The Del Mar "fresh-horse" angle also applies second start back - 39 percent winners, $2.93 ROI. Canani does not waste starts. His overall Del Mar win average is 25 percent. His three highest-odds winners last summer were turf layoffs: Drake's Victory ($14.40), Shining Energy ($19), and Amorama ($17.60). You have been warned.
One of the best longshot trainers in recent Del Mar history, Cerin was all chalk last year at Del Mar, where he went 8 for 16 with favorites, and 10 of his 12 winners paid less than 7-2. Don't be fooled - Cerin remains capable of upsets, particularly on turf. The past five years, Cerin has won 18 percent of his Del Mar turf races for a $2.99 ROI; on the Del Mar dirt, he has won 16 percent for a $1.76 ROI. Cerin is well stocked for 2006, with Willow O Wisp, last year's horse of the meet, and improving handicap horse Super Frolic. The knock on Cerin: He is undeniably streaky and enters Del Mar off a huge Hollywood meet, where he was winning at a 24-percent clip into closing week.
An inordinate number of near-misses (nine seconds, only three wins) chilled the 2006 Del Mar meet for Drysdale, whose stable is top-heavy with turf horses - 27 of his last 38 Del Mar winners were on grass. But he also fires on dirt, and enters the meet with a number of well-regarded 2-year-olds nearing their debut. Their intent will be obvious - the last five debut winners at Del Mar for Drysdale paid 2-1 or less, including last summer's future stakes winner Your Tent or Mine ($5.40). Count on more new shooters this season, and any turf horse making its U.S. debut or comeback for Drysdale figures to be live.
Historically a solid trainer by any measure, Ellis picked up his game noticeably the past two years. His overall win percentage hovered at about 15 percent until mid-2004. Since then he has won at a 23-percent clip. At Del Mar last year, Ellis won 9 of 19, including four layoff winners and two others first-off-the-claim. Ellis trains Pacific Classic candidate Buzzards Bay and unbeaten 2004 juvenile champion Declan's Moon, who is almost ready for a comeback. Ellis picks his spots judiciously, does not overmatch or overrace his stock, and is expected to have another solid summer at Del Mar with maidens, allowance runners, and stakes runners.
The summertime focus of the Frankel operation has shifted east; all that is left for Del Mar are short-price standouts. Frankel won nine races last summer at Del Mar from 35 starts - eight favorites and a second betting choice that paid a meet-high $5.80. Really swell. Times have changed. Most horses that Frankel kept in California with assistant Humberto Ascanio are maidens and allowance runners. They will be realistically placed, with obvious class-speed attributes. In other words, do not expect any surprises. Since 2003, Frankel's main-track winners at Del Mar can be counted on one finger. But stay tuned. Purses at Del Mar are too high for Frankel's owners to completely turn away from.
The subpar meet Gaines endured last summer at Del Mar (2 for 21) was an aberration that is not likely to be repeated this year. Gaines has been on fire. At Santa Anita and Hollywood, she was a combined 24 for 86 into Hollywood closing week. Gaines trains stakes winners Lucky J.H. and Foxysox and does especially well with layoff horses and second-time starters. Over the past five years at all tracks, Gaines is 21 percent with second-start maidens for a $3.24 ROI. Gaines does super with Del Mar favorites that start between 2-1 and 5-1. In that range, she is 36 percent (12 of 33 for a $3.22 ROI). Expect the 2006 Gaines hot streak to continue deep into summer.
Other than a good laugh, one never knows what to expect from joke-teller Gallagher. His win rate has improved from a long-term 13 percent rate to 22 percent at Hollywood into closing week. The problem is that Gallagher trainees generally are undervalued, but there is an occasional random upset. Even though Gallagher won four races at Del Mar last year, with payoffs ranged from $17.40 to a high of $40.40, he still barely showed a net-bet profit. Gallagher is gaining increasingly high-class stock, including sharp turf filly Charming N Lovable, and he recently picked up six horses from Glen Hill Farm, which scored two Del Mar upsets last year with trainer Tom Proctor: Big Promise ($28) and Obtuse ($26.60). Gallagher's five-year win rate at Del Mar is only 8 percent for a $1.50 ROI. Those numbers are expected to improve at the 2006 meet.
Coming off a career-best Hollywood meet (19 for 94 into closing week), Harrington may slow down at Del Mar, but he will not stop. In fact, he remains a profitable longshot trainer each summer, even with a modest 12 percent Del Mar win rate the past five years, when all but 3 of his 18 winners paid $10 or more. While he is known for his spring-summer wins with Swiss Yodeler 2-year-olds, Harrington also wins with layoffs and second-time starters. His best upset last year was Mudd in Yer Eye, a 2-year-old by Gilded Time who pulled a $43 upset in his second career start after a dull Hollywood debut. He is likely to score again. Do not let a 2006 longshot slip by.
Though hardly dominant, Headley offers at least one solid Del Mar angle - comeback maidens. Two of his four wins last year were special-weight layoffs; the past five years Headley is 5 for 10 in the category. One of the circuit's true horsemen, Headley's debut maidens win at 12 percent; second-time starters fire at 26 percent. Swaps winner Arson Squad will carry the stable into summer. Headley's best recent Del Mar longshots were 2003 layoff winners Grand Appointment ($49.80) and Lucky in Love ($15.80).
Bob Hess Jr.
The top Del Mar trainer in 1991 and 1992, Hess is mired in an uncharacteristic drought. He won just two races from his first 44 starters at Hollywood Park. It poses a dilemma for handicappers, because Hess was solid at Santa Anita and usually is one of the most active trainers at Del Mar. Last summer he started 53 horses (six wins) at Del Mar and posted upsets with 2-year-old firster Private World ($13.40) and 2-year-old second-time starter Jon Hennessy ($54.20). Ultimately, it might be fresh horses that salvage the season for Hess. His four Del Mar wins in 2004 included a second-start gelding, a first-off-the-claim, and a layoff dropper. Hess is certain to break out of the doldrums, but when? Wait and see.
For years, Bay Area kingpin Jerry Hollendorfer has been a bet-against in Southern California, especially in summer. The past five years, Hollendorfer is 3 for 82 at Del Mar, and all three winners were favorites. But it appears the So-Cal slump is nearing an end. Hollendorfer had a super Hollywood Park, where out of his nine starters he had two graded stakes wins and a nose second by longshot Ace Blue in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Hollendorfer will not start many horses this summer at Del Mar, but Southern California contrarians should reconsider the negative parimutuel opinion of a top West Coast trainer.
With minimal fanfare, Jones has carved a profitable California niche. His runners start at overlay prices, and last summer at Del Mar, Jones won 10 of 36 for a $3.61 ROI. Seven of the winners were maidens, and three were second-time starters. This summer at Hollywood, six of Jones's first nine winners were maidens. Many of his clients are California breeders; it allows Jones to run maidens in claiming races instead of "protecting" the value of auction purchases by running in stronger special-weights. Jones specializes in maidens and layoff horses, and though he wins infrequently with first-timers, he scored debut upsets the past two Del Mar meets, with Home Ice ($69.60) in 2004 and Salah Who ($28) last summer. Both won in late August, after three workouts over the Del Mar track.
The all-time leading Del Mar trainer (419 wins), McAnally will try to bust out of a two-year Del Mar funk during which he has won 10 races from 123 starters (8 percent). McAnally trainees offer minimal value overall, but they do surprisingly well when expectations are highest. The McAnally win rate with Del Mar chalk the past five years is 37 percent (10 of 27) for a $2.06 ROI. Niche angles at which McAnally does well include comebackers, as well as shippers from Europe and South America adding Lasix.
The first race Miller wins this summer at Del Mar will be his first win ever at Del Mar. After spending six years on farms, Miller returned to training in late 2004 and is gradually building a solid stable. It includes juvenile stakes filly Pinata and stakes sprinter Fast Parade, who has returned to Miller's care. Miller entered closing week at Hollywood with an overall 2006 record of 11 wins from 57 starters, including barn-switch longshots Pinata ($16.40), Limited Creole ($34.40), Fast Parade ($17.40), and second-time starter She's Got Skills ($14.80). Miller is based at San Luis Rey Downs, he slips in under the radar, and is worth following.
The third-leading trainer in Del Mar history (353 wins), Mitchell has momentum this summer. At Hollywood he was firing at over 20 percent. Mitchell's strengths are familiar - first off the claim and dropping in class. Five of his 12 wins last summer were first off the claim, and the past two summers he has surpassed double digits in wins by taking 28 of 129 races (21 percent). Mitchell places horses aggressively, and claiming winners often stay at the same level, where they are more likely to reproduce top efforts. Stakes sprinter Battle Won has returned to form and will be a force. Mitchell wins under a variety of conditions, sprint, route, turf, and dirt.
Only five years after relocating from Arizona, Mullins has become the dominant trainer in Southern California and a target for skeptics who believe he has some sort of unfair advantage. The facts are, Mullins entered closing week at Hollywood in his customary spot on top of the standings, and he is favored to lead Del Mar in wins for a second straight year. His hallmark is percentage. The last three years, Mullins has posted the highest Del Mar win percentage of any trainer who starts an average of at least one runner a day - 30, 25, and 28 percent - while generating a flat-bet profit each year. Mullins does best with new acquisitions. Nine of his 23 wins last summer were first off the claim, and three others were barn switches. Mullins also wins with layoffs and steep droppers. History suggests he will average three wins a week. As a general rule, Mullins is "live" with just about every horse he starts.
The largest stable on the circuit in terms of volume, O'Neill starts more horses at Del Mar than any trainer. Last year he averaged three runners a day. Yet excluding 2004, when he won 28 races (22 percent), O'Neill's win rate and wagering value are merely average. His five-year Del Mar win percentage is 15, for a five-year ROI of $1.62. O'Neill's focus at Del Mar has shifted. Once purely a claiming trainer, O'Neill won eight 2-year-old races last year (19 wins total), and enters 2005 with his deepest juvenile contingent. Aside from Pacific Classic candidate Lava Man, most of O'Neill's winners will be first- and second-start 2-year-olds, $25,000 maiden-claimers, and an occasional layoff longshot.
One of a handful of high-profile trainers who still delivers at a price, Sadler set the bar mighty high last summer at Del Mar, where 4 of his 14 winners returned $25 or more (no other trainer had more than two upset wins). A common denominator with Sadler longshot winners is change. Last year, Deputy Kris ($25.80) and Healthy Addiction ($92.80) were dirt to turf; Swing the Cat ($41.20) was sprint to route. It happens every year. When a Sadler longshot trainee tries something new, look out. Another example is Taste of Paradise ($76.80), who went sprint to route in the 2003 San Diego Handicap. Sadler's five-year Del Mar win rate is 18 percent, with a $2.33 ROI.
The pressure is on Spawr, because 2006 has been below his typically high standards. Consistently one of the circuit's top trainers, Spawr's 10 percent win rate this year in Southern California is half his usual clip; his ROI is only $0.61. If the slump ends, Del Mar would be the place. Spawr does much of his best work at the seaside, where he has won 19 percent the past five years and historically is among the meet leaders. He wins with layoffs, first off the claim, and does particularly well opening week. A profitable Week 1 last year (3 for 12; payoffs $24.40) continued a six-year opening week trend during which Spawr has won with 21 of 80 starters for a $2.30 ROI. A reasonable prediction for Del Mar 2006 is Spawr will come out firing.