In common with Saratoga, its counterpart in the east, for many years Del Mar played host to just one, boutique meeting a year for a summer of fun, attracting the great and the good to the place where the surf meets the turf.
Following the closure of Hollywood Park, that changed and a second session comprising just fifteen racing days was added from mid-November to early December beginning in 2014.
This year that meeting, ‘The Bing Crosby Season’ has been moved forward to the beginning of November to take in the 34th running of the Breeders’ Cup.
Horsemen love their summer sojourn to Del Mar and a number of them will be hoping for an enjoyable and profitable time on the first weekend in November at the place they call home in July and August.
We all know that Bob Baffert and Mike Smith have a portfolio of participants to die for in the Breeders’ Cup but these five other locals could also give themselves another reason to love their ‘home’ track.
Frenchman Prat topped the jockey standings at the 2017 Del Mar summer meet accruing 35 victories at a clip of 21%, with an impressive 57% of his rides in the frame. His mounts earned close to $2.7million during the meet, more than $1.1million ahead of his nearest rival.
Since moving his tack to join the tough jockey colony in Southern California his career has really taken off and so far in 2017 his mounts have earned over $10.2 million. He is well on target to match last year’s total of 170 wins and £12.3 in prize money.
He made his Breeders’ Cup debut last year taking eight rides and sealing his first win courtesy of Obviously in the Turf Sprint, leading every step of the way before driving his mount to a nose victory.
He looks like having picked up a decent book of rides at Del Mar this time around. His best chances may come from MOONLIGHT MEMORIES, ante post favourite for the Juvenile Fillies, and PARADISE WOODS, a hugely impressive winner in the Zenyatta G1, an apt final prep for her target, the Distaff.
DRAYDEN VAN DYKE
Drayden Van Dyke was born in Louisville, the home of the Kentucky Derby and brought up in Hot Springs, Arkansas where Oaklawn Park is located, so it was probably no surprise he chose to make his living in horseracing. He started his career in Southern California in 2013 and the following year won the Eclipse Award as the leading apprentice in USA.
In common with many apprentices he has struggled a little since losing his claim and his number of winners levelled out at 69 in both 2015 and 2016. He is a little behind that schedule this year but his mounts have still picked up $3.5million in prize money so far.
His only Breeders’ Cup ride to date came in 2015 when he guided Photo Call into 5th place behind Stephanie’s Kitten in the Fillies and Mares Turf at Keeneland.
Although, the horse he would have been most looking forward to getting aboard, It Tiz Well in the Distaff, didn’t make the line-up, he has picked up three decent rides who should all outrun their odds. He gets the leg up on CAMBODIA, a course and distance winner last time out in the Filly and Mares Turf for Tom Proctor; OM in the Mile for Dan Hendricks and MUBTAAHIJ for Bob Baffert in the Classic. The latter took the Awesome Again G1, often the major prep for the Classic, at the end of September at Santa Anita and is one of Baffert’s awesome foursome for the big one.
D’Amato took over the barn when Mike Mitchell retired in April 2014 and has scarcely looked back since, firmly establishing himself among the Southern California training ranks. He headed the trainer standings at Del Mar this summer giving him back to back training titles. In total, he sent out 18 winners from his 98 starters while earning $1.5million for his patrons. He certainly seems to like his summer home track.
He has saddled nine Breeders’ Cup starters in his career so far, two in 2014 at Santa Anita; one at Keeneland in 2015 and six back at Santa Anita last year. The one constant in those three years was the appearance of Obviously who had two unsuccessful tries in the Mile before nipping the Turf Sprint last year, by the shortest possible margin.
He’ll have another half dozen to go the war with again this year and, although none of them are outright favourites, a couple of them, at least, have live chances. Interestingly his tough old stick MIDNIGHT STORM, who finished 3rd last year in the Mile, reverts to the green stuff again on Saturday after mainly running on the main track this year. He’s picked up a favourable draw on the inside and the front runner could easily lead them a merry dance. However, D’Amato’s best chance may come in the shape of RANSOM THE MOON in the Sprint. Appropriately, he won the Bing Crosby G1 here in August and, if he can put a rather flat performance last time out behind him, could find the Sprint being run to suit his closing style. His trainer will be hoping local champion jock Flavien Prat will be on another winner.
Author Horace Greeley is credited with coining the phrase ‘Go West Young Man’ and many have heeded his advice, including Simon Callaghan. As the son of former Newmarket stalwart Neville, he must certainly have found that Southern California has a more agreeable climate than his former home town, particularly in winter.
Since moving to the Golden State in 2009 his career has been a bit of a slow burner but in 2017 he has already surpassed his previous annual best by some way. With 35 wins and 37 placed horses from just 149 starts, he has earned his patrons over $2.4million at the time of writing and it would be no surprise if he breaks $3million by the end of the year. He doesn’t have the largest string but produces a healthy win to run ration of 23%.
He has pre-entered three in the Breeders’ Cup races; longshots ENCUMBERED in the Juvenile Turf and BAHAMIAN in the Juvenile and both arrive with legitimate excuses for recent below par performances last time out. However, the one that will have him most excited from his barn is favourite for the Juvenile Fillies, MOONSHINE MEMORIES. She has won twice over this track and last time out, at Santa Anita, put up her best performance to date when winning the major prep in the West for her division, the Chandelier G1, over the full Juvenile Fillies trip of eight and a half furlongs.
HRONIS RACING LLC
Kostas and Pete Hronis started their thoroughbred owning adventure in 2010 and have enjoyed considerable success. This summer’s meet at Del Mar saw them top the owners’ table courtesy with 7 wins from 37 starters (19%) and with 9 others finishing in the places, Hronis Racing runners accrued over $850,000 in prize money.
In total, they have had ten participants at the Breeders’ Cup but have yet to experience the pleasure of seeing one of their runners enter the winner’s circle. The closest they have come is the 2nd place from Stellar Wind in 2015 (she was 4th last year) and a trio of 3rd place finishes from Daddy DT in the Juvenile Turf and Iotapa in the Distaff – both in 2014 – together with Accelerate in the Dirt Mile last year.
The Hronis group will be hoping for a better Friday this time around and both ACCELERATE and STELLAR WIND, favourite for the Distaff, are back trying to improve enough to give them their first win at the big show.