Wednesday is opening day at Del Mar. The card is a good one, and it features something that’s been lacking in California of late: Full fields. Connections have saved plenty of bullets for California’s flagship summer meet, and while you can debate the merits of that (yes, this card is great, but I’m sure Santa Anita wishes they didn’t have to cancel days of racing due to low entries!), there’s no doubt that there are plenty of wagering opportunities coming up where the turf meets the surf.
I’ll go race-by-race and give my thoughts. If you’re interested in my Pick Five and Pick Four tickets, they’re at the end of this article (remember, Del Mar does not do an early Pick Four, just one at the end of the card). Let’s get started!
RACE #1: It won’t take long for me to go against a morning line favorite, because I do not like Getoffmyback in the opener. Astute readers may remember that beating Getoffmyback two weeks ago at this level at Santa Anita resulted in me scoring with a $393 Pick Five, and that field may have been worse than what he faces here. He stretches out, but has never hit the board in four starts going long.
I’m keying the horses surrounding him in the starting gate. Our Nation helped set a solid pace three back in his lone route race (which came against better horses), and he still hung on to finish a clear second that day. The class drop should help, and Flavien Prat staying on despite the misfire last time out is a good sign. Additionally, Papa Royale is a “lightbulb” play based off of a strong maiden win at Los Alamitos. He didn’t beat much, but his career record looks considerably better if you toss out the turf races he’s run, and this is a horse that could be figuring things out.
RACE #2: My first strong selection of the day comes here. We won’t get much of a price on Pedro Cerrano, who breaks from the rail for trainer Peter Miller, but there’s a lot to like. Yes, he comes in off a long layoff, but he’s been training very well at San Luis Rey, and because of the layoff, he’s protected in this $20,000 claimer. That’s usually a sign that a horse is doing very well, and given his 2-for-2 record at Del Mar, I think there’s reason to believe a big effort is in the offing. I’m singling Pedro Cerrano in all multi-race exotic wagers, and 2-1 may be a fair price if he runs back to his two local performances from last year.
RACE #3: This is a tricky allowance race featuring many horses with aversions to winning. Over Par likely would’ve been favored despite a 1-for-17 career mark, but he scratched Wednesday morning. If you want to spend some extra money and buy this race in multi-leg wagers, I won’t stop you.
I’ll hope that going two-deep gives me enough coverage. Accountability set a scorching past last time out at Santa Anita, and he should sit a much easier trip in this spot given the relative lack of early speed signed on alongside him. Additionally, Alsatian was a strong second in a $201,000 stakes race two back and has more tactical speed than he showed in his last effort. Hopefully, going three-deep will get me through this race.
RACE #4: The morning line man thinks this is a two-horse race between 9/5 favorite Classy Tune and 2-1 first-time starter Pretty Owl, who represents the Bob Baffert barn. I’m using both, but there are two others I’ll throw in at prices.
It’s great to see Tom Proctor back on the west coast, and he’ll saddle Slim Fit, who ran a strong second in her debut last month at Delaware Park. She dueled through fast fractions over what’s usually a slow track, and if she improves off of that effort (as Proctor-trained second-time starters often do), she’ll be one to respect in here.
I’m also going to use 10-1 shot Literary Critic, a first-time starter trained by Clifford Sise. This one is bred to be a runner. She’s by City Zip and out of a mare named Ain’t She Sweet. Ain’t She Sweet is by Storm Cat, which makes her a full sister to both 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Life Is Sweet and 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Sweet Catomine. Literary Critic boasts a solid, consistent worktab, and Sise has a sneaky record of late with debuting runners, so I think this one merits inclusion on your tickets.
RACE #5: The first 2-year-old maiden race of the meet is here, and it’s a doozy. Of the 11 horses (including one also-eligible) that are signed on to run, eight will debut in this spot. Morning line favorite Tyfosha chased a next-out stakes winner in her debut and looms large, but I don’t think she’s a cinch.
Bob Baffert, as usual, boasts a flashy first-time starter in the form of Just a Smidge, who’s been working well at Santa Anita. What’s interesting, though, is that Richard Mandella may have a precocious runner of his own in here. That’s Varanasi, a daughter of Jimmy Creed who fetched $385,000 at auction last September. The June 27th workout hints at major talent, and while Mandella’s horses usually get much better with age, anything close to that workout would make her a formidable foe on debut.
I also included Broome, who draws the rail but could have enough talent to overcome what can be a problematic post position for debuting runners. On paper, the pedigree (by Bellamy Road, out of a Closing Argument mare) doesn’t seem like much, but she hammered for a respectable $80,000 earlier this year and has worked pretty well for Peter Miller, whose barn is firing on all cylinders. A closer look at the pedigree reveals that her dam won a small stakes race as a 2-year-old, and she’s thrown a stakes-placed runner already (a filly named Katniss The Victor). If you’re playing a more budget-conscious ticket than the $48 one I have below, maybe you can stomach leaving her off, but I wanted her on it, as she’ll be a price and could possess considerable talent.
RACE #6: I’m very happy this race was the one between the Pick Five and Pick Four, because I was baffled by it when I looked at the form. This is a stakes-quality allowance race, and I could make a case for a number of runners in here.
Moonless Sky has been very impressive since switching to the Eddie Truman barn. She’s won four in a row, including a stakes race against state-breds. She tackles a stakes-quality field here, but she’s got more tactical speed than she showed last time, and 6-1 seems like a very square price on a horse that’s in career form.
The other horse that intrigues me is Family Meeting. Family Meeting is a multiple stakes-winner who had a horrible pace setup last time out at Gulfstream, yet was beaten less than a length. I also liked Frenzified a bit before she scratched.
RACE #7: The Pick Four starts here, and I think most of the talent lines up towards the outside. The two likely favorites (Gato Del Oro and Absolutely Stylish) come in off of maiden wins, and while I’m using both and either could win, I’m by no means married to either of them here.
Giant Expectations took a step forward in two starts at Belmont Park against New York-breds, and Magical Mystery could come flying late to overcome a bad post. I’ll use them both, but I’ll also throw in 12-1 shot Saint Dermot, a pace-dependent closer who could get a dream setup. There’s a lot of early speed on paper, and it could set up for a clunk-up closer to pick up the pieces late. Because of the possibility of that scenario unfolding, I want this longshot on my ticket.
Additional note: Tribal Jewel is on the AE list and needs two scratches to draw in. If one of the above horses scratches and he gets in the field, I’m substituting him in. The likely shape of the race is a concern, but he’s a consistent horse who hasn’t finished off the board in more than a year and won here three times last summer and fall.
RACE #8: This is the traditional opening day feature, the Oceanside Stakes. A full field of 14 3-year-olds will go a mile on the grass, and while a big field like this is usually not a spot to single in, I LOVE the lukewarm morning line favorite.
That’s Bowies Hero, who was last seen running fourth behind eventual Belmont Derby winner Oscar Performance in the Pennine Ridge. The race shape wasn’t kind to this closer that day, and he’s shown what he can do when he gets a pace to run at. He’s a two-time stakes winner that’s been running against much, much better horses, and there should be plenty of pace in front of him in this spot. I like him a lot in this spot, and if we get any sort of a price on him, that’s great.
RACE #9: This is the second 2-year-old race of the day, and fillies will go five furlongs. Unlike the fifth, which features an abundance of first-time starters, this race has some horses we’ve seen before, and I’m using a handful of them.
Likely favorite Spiced Perfection ran a solid second on June 16th, while Smiling Tigress has shown zip in the mornings since a likely-needed unveiling and Streak of Luck was bet before enduring a horrible trip in her debut last month. It wouldn’t be a shock to see any of these horses step forward, but given that none have been overly impressive to this point, I also opted to include a first-time starter…and in this case, she’s a big price.
Tapitha Bonita is 20-1 on the morning line, and the stats of the connections don’t exactly make you scream with confidence. However, the worktab she possesses has some strong moves. Her July 5th move was fifth-fastest of 34, her June 30th drill was fourth-fastest of 35, and her June 17th workout was seventh-fastest of 73. While her pedigree doesn’t jump off the page, and the $6,000 purchase price in January is low, she’s the third foal from the mare to race. Both of her predecessors are full siblings, and both are winners. Given this information, and the quality of the opposition here, I’m happy to throw her onto the ticket, especially at that price.
RACE #10: We end with a puzzler. This is a $16,000 claimer, and a few of these horses make you wonder why they’re running in this spot. Belisarius, for instance, was fifth in last year’s Belmont Gold Cup going two miles on turf…and now, he’s showing up in a $16,000 claimer going a mile on dirt?
I settled on going four-deep. My top pick is Preacher Roe, who’s protected by trainer Mike Puype off a long layoff. Puype excels with such moves, and this gelding’s starts at this level and against similar company have been some of the best of his career.
I’ll reluctantly use 3-1 morning line favorite Private Prospect. I’m not sure he’s capable of such a performance, but his best race certainly wins this (he was third in two Grade 3 races back in 2015), and he’s a candidate for Del Mar’s “ship and win” program, which I’m sure is part of the reason he’s here. Additionally, Shackleford Banks has won five of 11 career dirt starts and would benefit from a pace meltdown (which isn’t out of the question), and 8-1 shot Accelerant is a juicy price given that one’s affinity for two-turn routes of ground. If he repeats the race two back, where he won by more than five lengths, he’s a major player.
– – – – –
$0.50 Pick Five: Race #1
64 Bets, $32
– – – – –
$0.50 Pick Four: Race #7
R7: 5,6,7,9,10 (12 in case any scratch and that one draws in)
80 Bets, $40