Rachel looking to make more history

She’s already won the Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose Stakes by record margins, and in May she became the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness. On Sunday, she’ll attempt to join Serena’s Song as the only fillies to win the Haskell Invitational Handicap, and if she does it, she could become the first filly ever to sweep the Haskell and Travers.

Still don’t think she’s perhaps the best filly since Ruffian came along in the mid-70s? Well, listen to her co-owner, Jess Jackson, talk about the daugher of Medaglia d’Oro.

“Well, we’ve already proven we can run against colts, and I would hope that she will perform well in (the Haskell),” Jackson said. “And if she should win, I think it just lengthens her legacy and claim to be one of the best of her generation.

“It was delightful for her to beat Ruffian’s record in the Mother Goose, and Ruffian was truly one of the best ever fillies, as you know. But that said, if she races against boys and continues to beat them, that is also a major part of her legacy and history.

“We’re not necessarily trying to run against fillies. For one thing, the purses are light. And for another, she’s proven herself to be 20 lengths (better) than – in both races that were against fillies — the (Oaks) and the (Goose).

“So we have to look at the competition and have the champions run against champions, whether they’re colts or not. And including colts, in our view it’s a fair thing for the industry, for her legacy, and for her fans.”

Rachel Alexandra, hands down the leader in the Horse of the Year race, certainly has her fans. Monmouth Park officials are expecting a record crowd for the Haskell.

Speed is king again so far at Del Mar

No, it has not been a good first week for Del Mar’s synthetic Polytrack surface, seeing as though there have been four fatalities — two during live racing and two during morning workouts — dating back to Sunday, July 19. An additional breakdown on the turf during afternoon racing makes it five horses total that have had to be euthanized so far this summer.

Those are the type of numbers that led to these mandated artificial tracks in the first place. Del Mar’s stats in 2006 concerning breakdowns were dreadful, setting into motion the move by the California Horse Racing Board — led by then chairman Richard Shapiro — to force all major California race tracks to install synthetic surfaces by the start of the 2008 racing calendar.

While the number of catastrophic injuries is up, so too are the number of gate-to-wire winners at the seaside oval. Here are some surprising numbers through the first five days of Del Mar racing, especially when you consider that speed horses were up against a severe bias in 2007 and ’08:

* There have been 25 sprint races, ranging from 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 furlongs, over Polytrack and eight horses, or 32 percent, have gone virtually gate to wire.
* Four of the sprint winners (16 percent) were second after the opening quarter mile, meaning almost half (48 percent) of the sprint winners so far this meet have been no worse than second early on.
* Seven sprint winners, or 28 percent, have been sixth or worse after the opening quarter, meaning that as well as speed has fared so far, come-from-behinders are not at a distinct disadvantage like speed horses were the past two summers.
* Of the six races on the main track at one mile or more, there has been one gate-to-wire winner and the other five have all come from fourth or farther back after the opening half-mile.

So far, it’s been a very fair track for bettors. Now whether it stays that way, depending on if management tinkers with it because of the early fatalities, is open to debate. But it’s nice to be able to bet speed on this track and know your horse isn’t going to need an oxygen tank at the eighth pole.

Another one goes down at Del Mar

The fifth horse of the current Del Mar meet, Maggie and Hopie, had to be euthanized Tuesday morning after breaking down in the stretch during a morning workout.

The meet total through the first five days of racing? Two racing fatalities on the so-called safer Polytrack synthetic surface, one racing fatality on the turf and two morning breakdowns on Polytrack that led to the horses being euthanized.

Perhaps all that money that was spent on these “safer” artificial tracks — more than $40 million — could have been used to improve the existing dirt tracks in Southern California. They would have had enough money left over to sweeten purses or use in any number of ways to aid an industry that is clearly struggling because of one bad decision after another by its leaders.

I didn’t see all these fatal breakdowns during the Belmont Park meet that ended over the weekend, and guess what folks? They use good, old-fashioned dirt. So does Saratoga. We’ll see how Saratoga’s numbers stack up against Del Mar’s as far as fatal breakdowns go when its meeting begins Wednesday.

I’m not saying Polytrack was the reason for the breakdowns. What I am saying is that, unfortunately, breakdowns are going to occur over any type of surface because these huge, powerful horses are so fragile. I am blaming an increase in soft-tissue injuries on these synthetic tracks, though.

As one trainer told me nearly two years ago, “They might not be breaking down as often (right now), but they’re just dying a slower death.”

San Diego Handicap looks tough

Sunday’s Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar, the major prep for the $1 million Pacific Classic on Sept. 6, is shaping up as a top-flight handicap race, what with the connections for Well Armed, Colonel John, Life Is Sweet, Mast Track, Kelly Leak, Magnum, Ball Four, Cigar Man and Temple City all considering the race.

It was thought a few weeks ago that trainer Eoin Harty might ship Colonel John east so he could keep the two main handicap stars in his barn — he also trains Well Armed — separated until the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Santa Anita. But Harty would rather keep Colonel John at home and prep him for the big race here. Colonel John’s considered only “possible” for the San Diego, whereas Well Armed is pretty well set to go.

Well Armed, off his monster 14-length score in the $6 million Dubai World Cup, is considered one of the top handicap horses in the country. He also had a great year in 2008 that ended on a disappointing note when he finished well out of it in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Life Is Sweet, whose connections prefer to duck stablemate Zenyatta by running her aganst the males again, finished a credible third in the Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11. She was one of the only horses in the field that closed any significant ground late.

Mast Track, who looked to be in poor form heading into the Hollywood Gold Cup, showed some of his old life by finishing fourth and could be a major player the rest of the way if he’s back to the way he was when he went gate to wire to win the 2008 Gold Cup.

Not a great start for those “safer” surfaces

When the CHRB and its chairman at the time, Richard Shapiro, mandated the installation of synthetic surfaces at all major California race tracks, we were told they would be safer for the horses and significantly decrease the number of fatalities.

But Del Mar’s Polytrack surface has gotten off to a bad start this summer after three horses broke down and had to be euthanized in the past six days — one last Sunday during a morning workout and two in the first three days of racing.

More than $40 million, which could have been put to much greater use, has been spent by Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita on these artificial tracks when all that really needed to be replaced were the bases, which then could have been topped off by quality dirt.

We’re still receiving conflicting data, which helps explain why two Southland newspapers reported different statistics this past week when reporting the number of fatalities at Del Mar the first two years of Polytrack.

It’s a good thing for the CHRB that there’s never been an official list of all the horses that have come down with soft tissue injuries since the synthetics were installed. That would be a mighty long list.

Stute chages directions with Papa Clem

Ten days ago, trainer Papa Clem wanted no part of Rachel Alexandra in next Saturday’s $1.25 million Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park. But in a 180-degree turn, Stute has decided to run his talented 3-year-old colt in the Haskell. It might not hurt that the purse was increased $250,000 a few days ago.

“She’ll lose one of these days, and I’m hoping my horse will do it,” Stute said from his headquarters at Del Mar.

Stute had hoped to reunite Papa Clem with Rafael Bejarano, who rode the colt when he won the Arkansas Derby in April. But with Bejarano sidelined indefinitely because of multiple facial fractures suffered in a riding accident on opening day of Del Mar on Wednesday, Stute will stick with Elvis Trujillo, who rode Papa Clem to a third-place finish in the Long Branch Stakes on July 11.

Stute was also considering the Jim Dandy Stakes on Aug. 2, but that’s a $500,000 purse. Makes more sense to run for $750,000 more. Even a second-place finish in the Haskell would mean $250,000 — or only $50,000 less than the first-place check for winning the Jim Dandy.

The hike in the Haskell purse did not lure Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird away from the West Virginia Derby on Aug. 1.

Stute reiterated this weekend what he told me two weeks ago — if Papa Clem runs well in his next start, he’ll likely return to California and run in either the $350,000 Del Mar Derby or $1 million Pacific Classic on Sept. 6.

Baze, Rosario to vie for Del Mar title?

With Rafael Bejarano sidelined until at least mid-August with multiple facial fractures suffered in an ugly breakdown on opening day Wednesday at Del Mar, who’s going to challenge Hollywood Park spring-summer meet champ Joel Rosario for the seaside title?

How about Tyler Baze, who won the opening day Oceanside Stakes aboard Afleet Eagle for trainer Vladimir Cerin? Baze was fourth during the recent Hollypark meeting, behind only Rosario, Bejarano and Victor Espinoza, and fourth at Santa Anita behind the big three of Rosario, Bejarano and Garrett Gomez. He’s tied with Rosario atop the Del Mar standings, both with three wins, through the first two days of the 37-day meet.

Even though Gomez figures to miss a lot of time here because of riding commitments elsewhere, you really can’t count him out either, although when a rider misses as many weekend days as Gomez might, it will be tough.

John Sadler, the defending Del Mar training champion, has signaled his readiness for another big meet by saddling three winners in the first two days. Mike Mitchell, fourth at Hollywood Park, expects to have another big Del Mar meet after finishing second here in 2008.

Even though Cerin saddled two winners on opening day, don’t expect him to challenge for any titles.

“I’m not set up that well for this meet,” Cerin said in the winner’s circle following the Oceanside. “I have maybe less than half the horses that I had last year. But you do the best you can with what you have, right?”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Reply

Bejarano suffers multiple facial fractures

Jockey Rafael Bejarano, leading jockey at Del Mar a year ago, suffered multiple facial fractures today, including a broken jaw, nose and bones around his eye, in a spill on opening day at the seaside oval. He will be admitted to Scippps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla tonight and further X-rays will be taken. There was no fracture of the clavicle, an original area of concern, but further tests will be conducted because Bejarano was complaining of pain in the area.

Bejarano was riding Mi Rey, an 8-year-old gelding, in today’s third race at Del Mar when the Doug O’Neill trainee broke down at the head of the stretch and dumped the 27-year-old Peruvian. Mi Rey continued to try to run on his injured right leg until stopping in front of the winner’s circle. According to CHRB equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur, Mi Rey suffered a compound fracture of the right front fetlock, which is similar in nature to the human ankle.

Arthur said the gelding undoubtedly made the injury worse by trying to run after he was injured. He was loaded onto the horse ambulance and there was no chance to save him. He was euthanized in the ambulance.

According to a Del Mar racing official, Bejarano’s jaw will be wired and there is a strong possibility of surgery for the facial fractures.

More on Bejarano

Just learned that the main areas of concern with jockey Rafael Bejarano, injured in a spill during today’s third race at Del Mar, is the left clavicle and the left side of the 27-year-old rider’s jaw. He’s still at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla undergoing precautionary X-rays.

Bejarano taken to hospital after spill

Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who’s dominated the SoCal rider standings since relocating here full time in December 2007, was involved in a spill during the third race today on opening day of the Del Mar meet, going down at the top of the stretch when Mi Rey suffered a life-ending leg injury.

Bejarano, who was attended to for several minutes on the track following the spill, was taken to first aid and then transported to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla for precautionary X-rays. We’ll update when we receive word on his condition.

Mi Rey, an 8-year-old gelding trained by Doug O’Neill, had to be euthanized.