Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Keys" from Del Mar

Another exciting Del Mar season is in the books and besides excellent racing as always, this year, it seemed to me, was as good a meet as they've enjoyed in years. The fields were larger and there was great balance; evidence of that is the fact that Jerry Hollendorfer and Peter Miller tied for the most victories by a trainer. Bob Baffert, by the way, wasn't even in the top five in the category, although he certainly had a fine meet, ending with a bang by winning his 12th Del Mar Futurity on closing day, September 3rd.

As a handicapper, I also loved the fact that there were a good number of double digit prices that won, especially with the 2-year old races. I mention this, as this certainly was not the case - once again - at Saratoga. I love that track not only for the history, but also the quality of racing, but when Todd Pletcher continues to seemingly win every other 2-year old MSW race at the Spa, well, it gets a little boring. Yes, he has great horses and top clients, but you'd like to see someone else win a few of these races from time to time.

So spreading the wealth at Del Mar (or any track) when it comes to the leading trainers is a good thing, so great for Hollendorfer and Miller as well as Bob Hess, John Sadler and Doug O'Neill, all of whom enjoyed more victories at the meet than Baffert. Nothing against Baffert, but it's nice to see things even out a bit. Besides, no one is going to feel sorry for BB, at least not for some time.

Baffert had the last laugh anyway when he won the Del Mar Futurity with American Pharaoah, a colt he had labeled as one of his best 2-year olds. He was favored to win his first race, but ran into a buzzsaw named Om, trained by Dan Hendricks in the 4th race on Saturday, August 9. Om, from the three hole, took the lead immediately and was able to shake loose from American Pharaoh, who stalked him three wide down the backstretch. The race was over by the eighth pole and American Pharaoh faded to fifth, losing by 9 and 1/4 lengths.

For that race, American Pharaoh was equipped with blinkers, but for the Futurity, Baffert had removed them. He had the rail, which didn't hurt his chances, but for this race, he was sharp as could be, taking the lead after a few strides and then taking command of the race after two furlongs. His final time for the seven furlongs was 1:21 and 2/5 seconds and his winning margin was 4 and 3/4 lengths.

By the way, the second and third place finishers were Calculator, trained by Peter Miller and Iron Fist, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer. I mention this as both of those horses came out of the same race that American Pharaoh ran in on August 9 against Om. Talk about a key race! (If you'll allow me a moment to gloat, I did catch the $227.60 exacta that race- I wrote about it here.)

If that isn't enough evidence to get you to realize that the Om race on August 9 was a key race, consider what happened on closing day in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes, that went off as race 6, just an hour or so before the Del Mar Futurity. The winner of this race was Daddy DT, trained by John Sadler and ridden by Corey Nakatani. Daddy DT had run in one previous race, that on the polytrack, finishing sixth by ten lengths. Guess what race that was? You got it, it was race 4 on August 9, the race won so convincingly by Om. Yes, the switch to turf was the right call for Daddy DT, but clearly, his effort in the August 9 race, was much better than looked on paper, due to an overwhelming foe.

So the evidence is overwhelming - the 4th race on August 9, a 6and 1/2 furlong sprint for 2-year olds was as "key" a key race, as you'll ever find!

By way, I can't wait to see Om race again. Nor can I wait to see what is in store for the first-ever fall meet at Del Mar; named the Bing Crosby Season, the meet runs from November 7-30.