The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club kicks off its 75th season of racing a day later than usual July 17 with a new, wider turf course and plenty of full fields. Officials anticipate the usually raucous opening-day beach crowd Thursday to top 40,000 for the 10th consecutive year.
One of the first races to benefit from the re-sodded turf layout at Del Mar will be the traditional opening feature, the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes at one mile for 3-year-olds. Twelve sophomores were entered with one also eligible. In the past, one-mile turf races were limited to 10 starters.
Del Mar expanded the turf course in anticipation of hosting the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which recently awarded the seaside track with the 2017 event. Del Mar plans to tear out its main Polytrack oval this December, following a three-week fall meet in November, and will replace it with natural dirt.
Among the new faces this season will be six-time champion Canadian trainer Mark Casse, who plans to have a string of as many as 40 horses at Del Mar.
"This will be a new experience for us and we're excited about being there," Casse told the Del Mar publicity office by phone. "My wife, Tina, and some of the family will be with us for the summer."
The 53-year-old native of Indianapolis added, "We're hoping to have the kind of success that will open the way for a year-round presence in Southern California. I'd like that a lot.
"We'll have a lot of young horses there, many with prospects for running in the Breeders' Cup," Casse said. "Some of them will come directly from our training facility in Ocala (Fla.) and some will be coming directly from Canada or from our string at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. The young horses will be ready to run."
Opening day also marks the return of two-time defending Del Mar riding champion Rafael Bejarano, sidelined since May 10 following a nasty spill at Santa Anita Park in which he sustained a broken collar bone, broken ribs, and fractures of both shoulder blades.
The 10-race opening card, the first of 36 at this summer stand, has two other turf events and they are packed to the maximum with starters. In all, 105 horses are entered on the opening-day program, with 18 more also-eligibles should there be any scratches.
The likely favorite for the Oceanside is Glen Hill Farm's Enterprising, winner of the Pasadena Stakes March 22 and the Eddie Logan last December, both on the Santa Anita turf. The son of Elusive Quality comes off a third-place finish as the 13-10 favorite in Santa Anita's nine-furlong La Puente Stakes April 19.
Mike Smith replaces his ailing Hall of Fame counterpart Gary Stevens aboard Enterprising, whose loss in the La Puente was his first in four tries on grass. The bay colt is 7-2 on the morning line.
Other leading contenders in the Oceanside, a stakes prep for the $150,000 La Jolla Handicap (gr. IIT) Aug. 9 and the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) Aug. 31, are Texas Ryano (4-1) and Argyle Cut (9-2).
Warren B. Williamson's homebred Texas Ryano has won two of three starts and makes his graded stakes debut for trainer Carla Gaines. The son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of graded stakes winner Blending Element rallied from last to capture an allowance/optional claiming race for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita June 13. Joe Talamo rides from gate 10.
Argyle Cut, who drew the rail for trainer William Morey, closed ground when a close second to Home Run Kitten in the one-mile Singletary Stakes over the Santa Anita lawn June 21. Corey Nakatani rides back.
In the Oceanside, Bejarano was named on both Yard Line, who has been scratched by trainer Eoin Harty, and the Doug O'Neill-conditioned Sammy Mandeville, who is on the also-eligible list. Bejarano also has calls in six other races.
Del Mar is launching its summer meet a day later this year to give workers an extra day to prepare the facility following the end of the San Diego County Fair July 6.
The meet marks the return of turf racing to Southern California as the two-week summer meet that closed July 13 at Los Alamitos Race Course was limited to dirt racing.
The new course will consist entirely of GN-1 (named for golfer Greg Norman, who invented the strain) Bermuda grass due to its ability to adapt to Del Mar's marine environment and to withstand the track's use of saline reclaimed water. To save on wear and tear, Del Mar has six rail settings at six-foot increments for the new course, ranging from the zero setting to a temporary rail 30 feet out.
The always-popular summer stand, which ends once again following Labor Day Sept. 3, is not the conclusion of racing in 2014 at Del Mar. The track will run a second meet Nov. 7-30 as part of the new racing calendar created by the state's racing industry following the loss of Hollywood Park.
Del Mar expects to house a capacity of 2,000 horses in its stabling area, with additional horses stabled at San Luis Rey Downs and Los Alamitos.
A rolling double bet with a takeout rate of 20% on all races up to the finale each day highlights wagering menu changes for 2014. The usual rate is 22.68%. Following opening week, racing will be conducted on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule.
Del Mar, Thursday, July 17, 2014, Race 8
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Argyle Cut (KY) Corey S. Nakatani 119 William E. Morey - 2 2G. G. Ryder (CA) Elvis Trujillo 121 Jerry Hollendorfer - 3 3Home School (IRE) Tyler Baze 117 Doug F. O'Neill - 4 4Love Rules All (CA) Victor Espinoza 119 Peter Miller - 5 5Patriots Rule (CA) Fernando Hernandez Perez 117 Robertino Diodoro - 6 6Majestic Kitten (KY) Alonso Quinonez 119 David E. Hofmans - 7 7Aotearoa (CA) Kent J. Desormeaux 123 Leonard Powell - 98 8Diamond Bachelor (KY) SCRATCHED 0 UNKNOWN - 8 9Enterprising (FL) Mike E. Smith 121 Thomas F. Proctor - 9 10Texas Ryano (KY) Joseph Talamo 121 Carla Gaines - 98 11Yard Line (KY) SCRATCHED 0 UNKNOWN - 10 12Forever Juanito (KY) Agapito Delgadillo 119 Victor L. Garcia - 11 13Sammy Mandeville (KY) Rafael Bejarano 117 Doug F. O'Neill -
Del Mar, Thursday, July 17, 2014, Race 8