I sometimes fear I wax too poetic about the racing at Del Mar and Saratoga.
But after watching the action at both tracks virtually nonstop on their opening weekends, I’m now concerned that I’m not waxing poetic enough.
This, my friends, is racing as it was meant to be: Full, competitive fields, packed stands (to the degree allowed) and joyful atmospherics.
And I’m not the only one noticing.
Del Mar handled a record $21.3 million on opening day, 29 percent higher than the previous record of $16.5 million in 2016, according to Bloodhorse.com. That despite attendance capped at 15,874 by California COVID-19 restrictions. By the end of the third day of racing on Sunday, more than $80.5 million had been wagered.
Saratoga did just fine on the first four days of its opening meet as well. A record $21.9 million was wagered opening day, which saw 27,760 fans pack the grandstand. By the end of the weekend, bettors had wagered $90.1 million over four days — one more than at Del Mar.
Field size, a key factor in creating bettable races, played a big role in getting both tracks off on the right foot.
Del Mar averaged a whopping 9.16 horses per field over its 32 races.
Saratoga’s average of 7.87 entrants over 41 races was a bit lower, but rainy weather that forced a number of turf races to be moved to the main track and prompted numerous scratches kept it from being higher.
The bicoastal parties will continue this weekend with good stakes action at both tracks.
Saratoga is serving up the $150,000 Lake George Stakes (Grade 3) on Friday; the $200,000 (Grade 3) Caress Stakes and$500,000 Coaching Club Oaks (Grade 1), a 1⅛-mile test for 3-year-old fillies headlined by trainer Todd Pletcher’s undefeated Malathaat, on Saturday; and the $200,000 Shuvee Stakes (Grade 3) on Sunday.
Del Mar, meanwhile, has the $175,000 Fleet Treat Stakes on tap for Friday, the $250,000 Eddie Read Stakes (Grade 2) and $200,000 San Clemente (Grade 2) on Saturday and the $150,000 California Dreamin’ Stakes and the $80,000 Daisycutter Handicap on Sunday.
The Haskell DQ
As foreshadowed here last week, the running of the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Saturday at Monmouth Park ignited a fierce debate about the role — if any — New Jersey’s new “no whip” rules may have played in a scary accident during the race and the disqualification of the apparent winner.
In case you missed it, the Doug O’Neill-trained Hot Rod Charlie crossed the wire a nose in front of Mandaloun, only to be taken down for interference with Midnight Bourbon inside the eighth pole after veering inward and causing the latter to clip heels and fall hard.
Fortunately, Midnight Bourbon was not injured and his jockey, Paco Lopez, was able to return to riding the next day despite being thrown hard to the ground.
It is not clear to me whether Flavien Prat, Hot Rod Charlie’s rider, could have avoided the situation if he’d been able to use his whip, but both he and O’Neill suggested afterward that it could have made a difference.
For now, we can all be thankful that the outcome wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But it would be a damn fine idea if someone decided to take a fresh look at the rule before a rider or horse gets seriously injured or worse.
Ellis Starr’s San Clemente Stakes analysis
Nimbostratus (FR) is my pick to post the upset over likely heavy betting favorite Going Global (IRE) in this year’s San Clemente Stakes. After importing to the U.S. last summer, Nimbostratus showed she had a lot of talent when leading late and settling for second behind Madone in the Juvenile Fillies Turf Stakes at Del Mar. In her 3-year-old debut in January, Nimbostratus (FR) rallied for third behind Going Global (IRE) in the Sweet Life Stakes, then shortened from a mile to 6 furlongs and ran the best race of her career, earning a 100 Equibase Speed Figure. Following a poor effort in the Senorita Stakes in May (won by Madone), Nimbostratus (FR) shortened up again and bettered her career-best with a 104 figure effort. Jockey Abel Cedillo was aboard for the first time in that race and rides back. That race was an allowance/optional claiming race and I’m pretty sure no one expected Nimbostratus to be claimed from that race for $150,000, but she was. Now in the hands of up-and-coming star trainer Leonard Powell, who saddled Flashiest to win the opening day Oceanside Stakes last week, Nimbostratus can win the San Clemente if she repeats that last effort as the 104 figure is on par with the figure favorite Going Global earned in her most recent effort winning the Honeymoon Stakes.
Going Global doesn’t need much talking up as she’s won four straight races since coming to the U.S. in February. All were stakes and her consistent figures of 99, 95 and 99, and most recently 104, show she’s holding top form. Off since the middle of May, trainer Phil D’Amato, who also saddles Equilove (IRE), has given the filly a series of steady workouts and as the most recent of those were on the Del Mar turf, this filly has every right to run another “A” race good enough to win under jockey Flavien Prat, who has been aboard for all four of her local wins.
Equilove (IRE) fits at the level and may be a horse at higher odds near post time given the nature of this full field. She’s never run in a stakes race but in her most recent effort earned her a 102 figure sprinting on turf which demonstrates she fits with these as it’s nearly on par with the 104 figures Going Global and Nimbostratus earned in their most recent races. Equilove came to the U.S. over the fall and made her first start for D’Amato in March. She won that race nicely with a 94 figure, then stumbled at the start in her next race and lost all chance but still managed to finish fourth. Next came the breakout race last month in which she led from start to finish under jockey Ricardo Gonzalez, who rides her today. Considering Equilove had won her first local start when fifth early and her most recent on the lead from start to finish, that kind of versatility bodes well for her chances to be in the mix at the end of this year’s San Clemente Stakes.
Honorable mention, and some consideration for bets we make involving this race, goes to Madone, Karakatsie and Closing Remarks. Madone won the similar Senorita Stakes at a mile in May but the figure was just 89 so she would need to improve to be competitive. However, she won the first three starts of her career including two stakes, one at Del Mar, so that type of improvement is not out of the question. Karakatsie ran the best race of her career last month when second and beaten a neck in the Martha Washington Stakes at Gulfstream Park, earning a 98 figure and she is on a pattern for even more improvement in the San Clemente. Closing Remarks has finished first or second in five of seven races including her last four. All four were stakes on turf and in one of those, the Providencia Stakes, Closing Remarks was only a neck behind Going Global so she has shown enough to be respected when considering exacta wagers in this race.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Dramatizer (80); Founder’s Day (83); Freedom Flyer (84); Jibber Jabber (IRE) (88); Pizazz (89); and Tetragonal (IRE) (93).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.