Del Mar: Jockeys and trainers to watch for 2021
When Del Mar’s gates first opened in 1937, Bing Crosby greeted fans at the entrance, and 84 years later, opening day at the seaside racetrack remains a star-studded event.
The gates open on a new season of fun Friday, July 16. Opening weekend highlights include Saturday’s San Diego H. (G2) and Sunday’s Cougar II S. (G3).
Here are on-track stars to watch during the meet that concludes on Labor Day.
Last summer, Flavien Prat, with 50 wins, bested Umberto Rispoli by one win to earn the meet’s riding title, and Abel Cedillo finished third. At the fall Bing Crosby meet, Cedillo finished atop the jockey standings, with Prat second and Rispoli third.
Prat’s hard-earned 2020 title was his fifth at Del Mar, and his 15 stakes wins are the most any jockey has achieved in a single season. He has 60 stakes wins at Del Mar in six seasons.
The 28-year-old was born in France. There, his father trained harness horses, and his brother, Alexi, is a harness driver. Prat won his first race in his native country, and he was France's leading apprentice in 2013. He began making appearances in Southern California in 2009 and relocated to the Golden State full time at the end of 2014.
In 2019, he won the Kentucky Derby (G1) aboard 65-1 Country House, after the disqualification of Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first.
Prat recently wrapped up his eighth leading rider title at Santa Anita.
A true international horseman, Rispoli has made his mark at racetracks in Italy, France, England, Australia, Singapore, Japan, and Hong Kong, before he came to the United States in 2020.
In his first year stateside, he won 50 races during the winter/spring session at Santa Anita, and then he won 49 at Del Mar. That Del Mar riding title was determined in the second-to-last race of the summer.
Rispoli won eight stakes at Del Mar in 2020, including the Del Mar H. (G2) aboard Red King and the Del Mar Derby (G2) with Pixelate.
This year, he took the Shoemaker Mile (G1) on Smooth Like Strait and the Santa Anita Derby (G1) with Rock Your World. He also had his first Kentucky Derby mount, Brooklyn Strong.
Rispoli was born in Italy in 1988 and was Italy’s 2009 riding champion, with 229 victories, which broke Gianfranco Dettori’s record. He repeated as national champion in 2010, with 245 wins.
After almost a decade in Northern California, Cedillo moved his tack to Southern California for the summer of 2019, and his career has skyrocketed.
Before he headed south, Cedillo earned the leading rider title at the winter/spring Golden Gate Fields meet. On his new circuit, he was the third-leading rider at Del Mar in the summer, tied for leading rider at Santa Anita in the fall, and finished up the year as leading rider at the Del Mar fall session.
He repeated his fall title in 2020. Cedillo finished the year with a dozen graded stakes victories, including four Grade 1s and the Pacific Classic (G1) on champion Maximum Security.
The 32-year-old was born in Guatemala, a country with no racetracks and no racing history. He grew up on his family’s coffee farm. His first experience with horses was in 2006, on a farm in Ocala, Florida, where his father found work. Cedillo went to join him and began working as a hot walker and a groom.
Last summer, Peter Miller topped the trainer standings, with 28 wins, and Phil D’Amato finished second, with 20. In the fall, Richard Baltas took the training title, D’Amato was one race behind, and Miller another race behind D’Amato.
Miller’s 2020 training crown was his seventh at Del Mar. He earned his first in 2012. During last summer’s meet, he won at 24% and finished in the top three 51% of the time.
He expanded his stable to compete in Kentucky in 2019. In 2020, he added Oaklawn Park, where he made a terrific claim for $40,000 in C Z Rocket. Since then, the sprinter has earned four stakes wins and $1.1 million in purses.
Miller won his first Breeders’ Cup race in 2017, with Stormy Liberal in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1). In the next race, stablemate Roy H took the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1). Those two horses won the same races again at the 2018 Breeders’ Cup. Miller notched a fifth Breeders’ Cup win in the 2019 Turf Sprint, with Belvoir Bay.
Miller first attended the races at Del Mar at the age of eight with his parents, who raced under the banner of Winning Ways Stable. He got his start working for Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham.
Last summer, D’Amato won at a 24% clip and finished in the trifecta 53% of the time at Del Mar.
He has nine graded stakes wins in 2021, including multiple wins from turf specialists Charmaine’s Mia and Going Global, who is undefeated since she arrived in the U.S. from Ireland.
D’Amato earned his first training title on the Southern California circuit during the 2016 Santa Anita spring/summer season, and then he won the Del Mar summer meet, with 23 victories. In 2017, he and Baltas tied for the title.
D’Amato has scored 29 stakes wins at Del Mar, including six in the Del Mar H. (G2).
He grew up in San Pedro, California. His parents owned Thoroughbreds, and he went to Hollywood Park with his grandfather, who would place $2 bets for him.
After he began his career in Kentucky, D’Amato served as an assistant to California mainstay Mike Mitchell for 10 years. He took over the barn when Mitchell retired in 2014.
D’Amato’s stepdaughter, Jessica Pyfer, is currently the top apprentice jockey in Southern California.
In addition to the Del Mar title he shared with D’Amato in 2017, Baltas has won two outright — the fall meets in 2019 and 2020. He has earned 17 stakes wins at Del Mar.
Santa Anita H. (G1) winner Idol and multiple Grade 2 victress Venetian Harbor are two of the top horses in his barn.
Baltas was born in Gary, Indiana, and his family moved to Huntington Beach, California, when he was nine. He went to the races with his father as a child. Baltas moved to Lexington when he was 21, where he attended the Kentucky Equine Institute and began working as a groom at Spendthrift Farm. He worked for many trainers, including Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, before he took out his trainer’s license in 1991.
His wife Debby's family ran the backside track kitchen at Hollywood Park for many years until the track closed in 2013.