Freshening is nearly over, time to get used to Del Mar and the Polytrack that's not exactly the best version.
So, I've been on hiatus for reasons that are fairly ordinary to people in the 40-something demographic. After the serious issues, a holiday with my family came up on the agenda. Funny, the following four-legged animals don't look much like thoroughbred race horses! These tough dudes can't be broken.
There were also a few natural wonders to enjoy:
Speaking of summer wonders, Del Mar was rated #3 by a Hello Race Fans poll compiled by Dana Byerly, HRF Co-founder (but just #5 by yours truly). Horseplayers and/or racing enthusiasts (is there a difference?) alike enjoy the puzzles found "Where the surf meets the turf, down at old Del Mar..."
Fair warning, the Polytrack in place is not the same quality that was installed at Keeneland in Kentucky, Chicago's Arlington Park, or even Canada's jewel Woodbine Race Course. Those facilities didn't cut corners and put in the top grade of Polytrack, called "Elite" by the Martin Collins Group. Listed first among the three possible incarnations, and in place at the synthetic venture's partner race track, Keeneland, this must be the highest grade of Polytrack. Del Mar, like Turfway Park in Kentucky, installed the "Classic" version which is listed third on the Polytrack depth chart. See the list here.
The major difference: "Elite" has jelly cable to provide increased cushion while "Classic" does not.
So, remember ANIMAL KINGDOM? He was essentially a turf horse who won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. He was classy enough to win the Derby, run on dirt.
What does this mean for people interested in following Del Mar racing?
Generally, races on the main track tend to be run like turf races.
The same thing that afflicted maintenance of Del Mar's dirt main track makes maintenance of Polytrack challenging. The weather is cool, often damp, in the morning. This will often cause the track to play tighter and morning workouts to be faster than some afternoon races. The onshore flow, producing cool temps and clouds, often burns off by the 2:00 post time. This tends to cause the synthetic main track to become looser and tiring. The Polytrack website proposes a maintenance schedule, but on big racing days expect the maintenance crew to be pushed by notable trainers to water more liberally on hot days which will have the effect of tightening the course.
Horses that have run well on the course and appear in contending form, often win again at Del Mar. I suggest reading Daily Racin Form's Del Mar primer rife with statistics that are more detailed than I could ever post.
Tread lightly early in the meeting...see how the track is playing and maintaining. If you have the time and want to have a winning edge, check the weather a.m. and p.m. for the Del Mar adjacent Solano Beach area and make note of temperature and relative humidity.
Also, if you can identify the class standout that is in good form, they are generally wise to play with instead of against. Horses like ZENYATTA or SMILING TIGER, have proven that they can run on just about anything, including Del Mar's Polytrack.
Want a more consistent wagering option: play turf races around two turns.
Expect turf times to be a little slower than expected the first two to three weeks. This is generally the case with any track offering grass racing as there has been a long hiatus to grow a lush lawn. As the meet winds down, the course gets chewed up and becomes more like a pool table where miles are routinely run in about 1:34 or less. Stakes races, particularly the Del Mar Mile, are run in the 1:33 range or less.
Speaking of turf racing, the opening day feature is the Oceanside Stakes for 3y.o.'s going a mile on the lawn. In years past, there were so many entered and on the grounds that the racing secretary would split the race into two exciting editions. Alas, this is 2011 and the horse population is low (or is it that horsemen are more choosy with spotting horses?). This is the beginning of a three race series that includes the La Jolla S. (G.2) and Del Mar Derby (G.2).
An angle that has been working quite well after the Triple Crown season is playing back horses who were out of their element on Derby or Preakness day. MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE won a stakes at the Hollywood Park stand after nearly running last in the Derby. Absent today, I'd expect him to be part of the La Jolla field unless Baffert ships him for bigger fish and purses in a race like the Secretariat at Arlington Park.
MR. COMMONS fits that same criteria only he wasn't disgraced as badly by the Preakness doings as 'INTERLUDE was in the Derby, despite finishing third to that foe in the SA Derby. MR> COMMONS annihilated maidens in his lone turf effort down the hill at Santa Anita. Then came a thoroughly professional win from close range at a mile on the dirt and the usual Derby dreaming. He lacked earning for the Derby, so the Preakness was the Triple Crown target.
John Shirreffs has the son of former BC Mile winner ARTIE SCHILLER pointed to the right race on the right surface. He won't offer much value, but he's the one to beat.
Good luck and blog at ya'll soon!