Del Mar opens with switch back to dirt track

Profile Picture: John Mucciolo

July 15th, 2015

The fantastic summer racing at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club gets underway Thursday and continues through September 7. Held in a picturesque coastal setting, Del Mar plays hosts to one of the most ballyhooed meetings in the United States, with a dynamite stakes schedule and the opportunity to see talented juveniles launch their careers.

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah made his first two starts at Del Mar last summer.

This year features a significant change, however, as the Polytrack that was installed in 2007 has been removed and Del Mar reverts back to a dirt main track. The controversial synthetic surface produced some occasionally bizarre results and a return to normalcy could be in order. While it would be nearly impossible to predict what to expect in the early stages of racing here, we will take a shot. 

Speed was a major factor on many days at Del Mar over the past eight years of racing on the Polytrack, especially in recent times (27 percent wire-to-wire winners in 2014), and we do expect pace to be at an advantage on the new dirt track, more so early in the meeting. With that said, we have found the racing here to be volatile more so that other venues in the Golden State, and we wouldn’t be surprised if that trend continued. I don’t have an explanation for it (maybe it’s the proximity to the ocean?), but the main surface can be as biased as they come at times, even back before the Polytrack was installed.

Closely watching the races and the flow early on the program is important.

The turf oval was redone for last year’s meet, and a few days of turf racing were lost due to course concerns, but we can expect a more consistent surface this season. It certainly produced some robust payouts last year.

Early foot on the green was not paramount, as last campaign produced just 8 percent of the winners leading at every call. The lush lawn here is often quite firm, giving horses with a big turn of foot every chance on this seven-eighths grassy strip. We tend to gravitate toward horses with a bit of tactical speed and a nice closing kick, in general, and would suggest trying that early on in this meeting.

With that as a precursor, let’s tab a few horses on the opening day card that might fit the profile:

Opening Day Plays

Race 4 -- #6 Texas Ryano possesses a fine turn of foot and the son of Curlin recorded a nice third behind a good one in his 2015 debut most recently. The four-year-old colt might have the best late burst of any in the field and looms as extremely live for Carla Gaines, who has won a race on Del Mar’s opening-day card the last two years.

Race 6 -- #4 Alpine Luck looks interesting off the claim for Mike Puype. The four-year-old gelding has big early foot and will either clear the field early, or press in second to the top of the lane with Santiago Gonzalez in the irons. If the oval is kin to speed, move this one up, at an expected fair price, to boot.

Race 8 -- #10 Papacoolpapacool may not be a great price in a big field, but the Phil d’Amato trainee owns an excellent late kick and lands in a spot with a lot of runners who like to mix it up on the front end. This race could set up perfectly for the likely favorite and jockey Gary Stevens.