Del Mar Notebook: Volume 1

by Brian P. Turner
It was in 1937 when Del Mar Race Course was first opened to the racing fans of Southern California. Legendary crooner Bing Crosby, one of the founders of the seaside track, was on hand to personally greet the public as they made their way through the gates.

Only one short year later, Del Mar embedded itself in the consciousness of racing enthusiasts all across the United States as it was the site of the Seabiscuit-Ligaroti match race. Over 20,000 fans attended and a nationwide radio audience listened as George "The Iceman" Woolf piloted Seabiscuit to a thrilling finish as "America's Horse" claimed the victory by a nose.

In addition to the everyday fan of great Thoroughbred racing, Del Mar quickly became the gathering place of many of Hollywood's elite as stars like W. C. Fields, Red Skelton, Mickey Rooney, Betty Grable, Lucille Ball, and many others began to make the San Diego track their summer getaway. Legendary funny man Jimmy Durante spent so much time at Del Mar that once the turf course was added in 1960, it was eventually named in his honor.

Now, as Del Mar begins its 65th season of racing (it was closed for three years during World War II), the scene is much different than it was in those early years. As one strolls through the crowd, the likelihood of spotting a star isn't nearly as great as it was in those early days but the most important aspect of Del Mar, the Thoroughbred racing, has remained exactly as it was all those years ago.

Over the course of the 43-day meet, Del Mar will offer 31 stakes races. Nineteen of these stakes are graded and they will be highlighted by the 10 furlong, $1 million Pacific Classic (G1) on August 22.

Del Mar wasted little time getting the stakes action under way as they began their six-day-a-week meet (they will be dark on Tuesdays) with the 65th running of the Oceanside S. for three-year-olds going a mile on the newly renovated turf course. For the 16th year in a row, the Oceanside, traditionally a prep for the $400,000 Del Mar Derby (G2), was split into two divisions.

In the first division, a field of 10 went to the post headed by WAR ACADEMY (Royal Academy). The chestnut had put in a couple of solid starts in France before shipping to the United States where he finished second against optional claiming company at Hollywood in mid-June. In that event, War Academy was tardy breaking from the gate but closed with a rush to miss by only three parts of a length, leaving him with the appearance of a runner sitting on a big race. Though he was sent off as the heavy 3-2 favorite and was in contention all the way, the colt had to settle for fifth, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths.

WILD BABE (Wild Again) sped to the early lead then, under a masterful ride by David Flores, slowed things down through the middle stages of the race before holding off all challengers in the stretch drive to finish a neck in front. SEMI LOST (Lost Soldier) closed with a flourish late to take second, a half-length in front of HIPPOCRATES (Hennessy).

The second division of the Oceanside S. proved to be little more than a showcase for European invader BLACKDOUN (Fr) (Verglas [Ire]). In his last couple of starts in France, the gray was forced to tangle with multiple Group 1 winner American Post (GB) (Bering [GB]) and, though he came up on the short end both times, the colt hit the board each time.

After laying next to last through the early stages of the race, Blackdoun began to move up through the pack, with little or no encouragement from jockey Corey Nakatani, to the point that when the pair came five wide off the turn they were in the lead. From there, Nakatani hand rode him to an easy 2 1/2-length victory, setting a new stakes record time of 1:33 2/5 in the process.

TERROPLANE (Fr) (Verglas [Ire]), while no match for the winner, was clearly second best, finishing two lengths clear of LUCKY PULPIT (Pulpit).

On Friday, a field of seven Cal-bred two-year-old fillies contested the 5 1/2-furlong California Thoroughbred Breeders Association S. Favorite STERLING CAT (Event of the Year) stalked the pace early before putting in a game performance in the stretch to cross the finish line three parts of a length in front. MISS JANUARY (In Excess [Ire]) was second, a length ahead of PROPOSED (Benchmark).

On Saturday, the first graded stakes of the meet was contended as a field of six went to the gate for the John C. Mabee H. (G1), a nine furlong grass event for fillies and mares. LIGHT JIG (GB) (Danehill) was sent off as the favorite but, after briefly moving into contention near the top of the stretch, the four-year-old filly made an impact and finished last.

In the end, it was MUSICAL CHIMES (In Excess [Ire]) who put in quite an impressive exhibition, crossing the line 1 1/4 lengths in front. The just over 2-1 second choice came off the turn three wide under a confident Kent Desormeaux before gradually pulling clear in the stretch.

MOSCOW BURNING (Moscow Ballet) put in a solid effort for second, nosing out longshot NOTTING HILL (Brz) for the show.

The Fleet Treat S., Saturday's other stakes action, was for Cal-bred three-year-old fillies going seven furlongs on the main track. WESTERN HEMISPHERE (General Meeting) was sent off the heavy favorite and rewarded the chalk players by rallying from last to cruise home two lengths in front. ALPHABET KISSES (Alphabet Soup) challenged for the lead throughout and was clearly second best, finishing 3 1/2 lengths clear of MARIE'S ROSE (Swiss Yodeler) in third.

Sunday's graded stakes action got underway with the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup H. (G1) as a field of 10 went to the gate for the six-furlong event. The handicap was billed as a showdown between last year's victor BEAU'S TOWN (Beau Genius) and POHAVE (Holy Bull), who was coming off a solid victory in the Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Invitational H. (G1) at Hollywood Park on July 3.

When all was said and done, though, it was 8.80-1 shot KELA (Numerous), recently fourth in the Triple Bend, who rallied from last with an explosive turn of foot to hit the wire 1 1/4 lengths clear of second. While no match for the winner, Pohave was clearly second best, finishing 2 1/2 lengths clear of HOMBRE RAPIDO (Flastaff).

After challenging for the lead early, Beau's Town tired badly and staggered home last.

The final graded event of the weekend found a field of 10 three-year-olds and up going to the gate for the Eddie Read H. (G1). The coupled entry of BAYAMO (Ire) (Valanour [Ire]) and SPECIAL RING (Nureyev) was sent off as the heavy favorite and rewarded their backers by crossing the finish line first and second with Special Ring getting the best of his entrymate by three parts of a length. SWEET RETURN (GB) (Elmaamul) overcame a rough trip to finish another three parts of a length back in third.

With the entry finishing first and second, KING OF HAPPINESS (Spinning World) completed the trifecta with his fourth place effort.

Bill Spawr's four winners have him in the lead in the trainer standings but Bob Baffert, Bobby Frankel, Doug O'Neill, Mike Mitchell, and Jeff Mullins are hot on his trail with three winners apiece. As for the jockeys, Nakatani's eight winners give him the early lead, but Victor Espinoza and Tyler Baze are following closely with seven and six.

On the main track this week, horses on or near the pace dominated the sprints but the routes were pretty fair. As for the turf, runners coming from off the pace held a slight advantage.

Horses To Watch

Wednesday (7/21)
4TH -- THEATER R. N. (Theatrical [Ire]) returned from a more than seven-month vacation to rally from back in the pack, closing well through the stretch to take this allowance optional claiming event by a length. The four-year-old filly began her career with a flourish in taking her first two starts before finishing a dull fifth against optional claimers back in January. The time off seems to have served the chestnut well.
URAIB (Ire) (Mark of Esteem [Ire]) broke a bit slowly and was forced to check rather sharply in the first turn. The dark bay was in dead last when the field came off the final turn but closed with a tremendous turn of foot to miss by only a length. A better trip next out could yield better results.

6TH -- Hippocrates put in a solid effort in his second career try on the lawn. The $1.1 million purchase has a solid pedigree for the surface and is capable of showing improvement in his next start on the grass.

8TH -- Blackdoun was extremely impressive in his first North American start. It has been reported that trainer Julio Canani thought that the colt might be a little "short" coming into the Oceanside. If this is indeed the case, have pity on those who have to face him once he's finally fit.

Thursday (7/22)
1ST -- SOME BOLD THRILL (Bold Badgett) was four to five wide through the majority of this maiden claiming event. Still, the two-year-old colt came off the turn full of run and really ate up ground late to miss finishing second by a half length.

2ND -- BIT OF FOLLY (Olympio) was nearly 17 lengths off the pacesetters early in this starter allowance event but once she made her move, she passed the field like they were standing still to cross the finish line four lengths in front.

Friday (7/23)
1ST -- SPECTACULAR BAY (Siberian Summer) found tons of trouble in this maiden claiming event but somehow managed to finish second. After bobbling at the start, the two-year-old colt moved up into contention but was then forced to steady entering the turn. The dark bay then moved up to challenge for the lead on the rail where he brushed with the pacesetter but continued through to miss by only a neck.

2ND -- COASTAL STRIKE (Smart Strike) put the boys to shame in this $100,000 maiden claiming event. The two-year-old filly took the lead early and never looked back, crossing the finish line five lengths in front.

5TH -- CORONADO'S PRIDE (Coronado's Quest) found the move from the turf to the dirt and the addition of blinkers to be exactly what he needed to find his way into the winner's circle. The Bob Baffert trainee was content to stalk the pace early before unleashing through the stretch drive to cross the finish line six widening lengths on top.

Saturday (7/24)
6TH -- Musical Chimes beat a nice field and looked impressive doing it while taking the John C. Mabee.
Sunday (7/25)

2ND -- Kela put in an extremely solid performance when rallying from last to gamely take the Bing Crosby.

4TH -- FEATURE STORY (Petionville) was victimized by a horrible start, being forced to check shortly after leaving the starting gate. The four-year-old gelding looked as if he were beaten and even more so when he hit the stretch and was having to navigate around the wall of horses. Midway through the stretch drive, the dark bay finally found open running room in front and uncorked an explosive turn of foot that saw him passing up runners with every stride. He got up in the last few jumps and crossed the finish line a half-length in front.

Monday (7/26)
1ST -- TWO TRAIL SIOUX (Indian Charlie) stalked the pace early before taking the lead in the stretch to finish this maiden special event seven lengths in front under little more than a hand ride.

3RD -- AWESOME DIVIDEND (Awesome Again) found the drop into $32,000 claiming company to be exactly what he needed to finally break his maiden. After stalking the pace early, the four-year-old colt unleashed himself in the stretch drive to cross the line 13 lengths in front without ever being asked.