Ladies and dudes and racing fans of all ages, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club invites you to step right up, see for yourselves and be amazed and entertained when the 72nd season of racing begins this Wednesday (July 20). It may sound like a carnival barker's come-on, but there's some special substance behind the spiel for the 37-day meeting "Where The Turf Meets The Surf."
Two 'Dudes' -- Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude and Hollywood Gold Cup victor First Dude - will be ensconced in the stable of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert with the possibility that one or both could run in the $1-million Pacific Classic on Sunday, August 28, the signature race of the meeting.
And Chantal Sutherland, the well-established First Lady of racing in Canada, has chosen to forgo her annual return to her homeland for the summer meeting at Woodbine in Toronto and will be a Del Mar regular for the first time.
Providing considerable impetus in Sutherland's decision to continue to compete against and be a constant part of the talented Southern California jockey colony was her victory aboard Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap, an effort which made her the first female rider to notch a Big 'Cap win. Reinforcement for the decision came with Sutherland's much-praised ride on Game On Dude in the Gold Cup in a nose loss to First Dude and Martin Garcia.
Twirling Candy, owned in partnership by Del Mar's Jenny Craig, DMTC Director and Rancho Santa Fe resident Martin Wygod and William Farish of Kentucky, was the beaten favorite in both the Big 'Cap and Gold Cup. Still, the son of 2003 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride appears a likely candidate to try to put those races behind him and emulate his daddy in the 10-furlong Pacific Classic.
If First Dude, Game On Dude and Twirling Candy face off again in the Pacific Classic it would be only the fourth time that the 1-2-3 Gold Cup finishers met in a rematch.
For the third year in a row, racing will be conducted five days a week on a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule with the traditional 2 p.m. first post in effect with the exception of Fridays, when the track's popular "Four O'Clock Friday" program - which features hot rock bands right after the races - is in vogue. Additionally, Pacific Classic Day has its own special post time of 1 p.m. Approximately $23 million in purses will be distributed during the meeting, including $7 million in advertised stakes money, topped by eight Grade I events highlighted by the Pacific Classic. All told, with advertised and overnight events, Del Mar will offer 42 stakes races during its 37 days.
Del Mar's 72nd season of racing begins this Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Baffert, who won the Del Mar training championship for seven straight years from 1997-2003, is on a title roll again on the Southern California circuit having taken the Santa Anita 2010-11 winter-spring session, then the ongoing Hollywood Park spring/summer stand. The silver-haired, 2009 inductee into racing's Hall of Fame tied for third in the Del Mar trainer standings last year and is expected to be a force again, as usual, especially in the 2-year-old divisions where he has saddled nine Futurity and six Debutante winners. Baffert, the track's all-time leader for stakes victories with 90, will share space at Del Mar with fellow Hall of Fame trainers Jack Van Berg, Ron McAnally -- the track's all-time wins leader with 434 - Neil Drysdale and Richard Mandella. Adding to that mix this year will be Jerry Hollendorfer, who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in August.
Doug O'Neill, who took the 2010 training title by a margin of nine victories over John Sadler, will be shooting for a fifth Del Mar championship since 2004. Six-time training champion Mike Mitchell will start the season only five behind McAnally on the all-time wins list.
The 2010 Del Mar jockey title came down to the final race of the meeting before Joel Rosario prevailed over Rafael Bejarano, 57 wins to 56. A similar scenario in 2011 would seem possible since the two have waged close contests at the subsequent major Southern California meetings. Rosario won the Santa Anita winter-spring title and he and Bejarano are locked in a tight duel coming to the finish of the current Hollywood Park season.
Veterans Patrick Valenzuela and Victor Espinoza, who have combined for eight Del Mar titles with five of them since 2000, are back at a track where they're always a factor. The same can also be said for double Eclipse Award winner Garrett Gomez, Garcia, Martin Pedroza and Tijuana-born David Flores. "Youngsters" Joe Talamo, 21, and Tyler Baze, 28, are also back in good form after having recovered from injuries that cut short their 2010 Del Mar campaigns.
Besides her riding talents, Sutherland's presence at Del Mar enables a most-interesting bit of entertainment to unfold around the intriguing "Battle of the Exes" match race against her former fianc� and fellow jockey Mike Smith on Sunday, August 7. In 2003, Del Mar was the venue for a "Battle of the Sexes" match race won by Patrick Valenzuela over Julie Krone.
The track's emphasis on a whole-day experience and its coveted spot as the nation's leading racetrack for the twenty-and thirtysomethings should be in full bloom this summer. The facility's most dynamic musical lineup ever is topped by three major weekend concerts (Ben Harper, Ziggy Marley and Weezer) and seven highly touted "Four O'Clock Friday" shows.
Additionally, Del Mar will hold its first-ever Gourmet Food Truck Festival (August 20), its traditional two "Donuts at Del Mar" gatherings (July 23, August 13), a Ladies' Day (August 7), a special Family Fun Day (July 31) and present the return of the popular racing wiener dogs on Labor Day Monday (September 5).
The track's mammoth Opening Day, which has seen attendance rise seven straight years to a track record 45,309 in 2010, has taken on a life of its own as one of the biggest events in San Diego and a major milestone each year on the national racing calendar. It will feature "The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest" once again to add a special luster to the return of the running Thoroughbreds to the iconic seaside oval.