Here’s the first betting hint of the upcoming Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s summer meet, which opens on Thursday: Give horses ridden by Stewart Elliott extra consideration on the Polytrack.
Elliott is the veteran jockey who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Smarty Jones a decade ago. He has kicked around the sport over that time, but rose to prominence again this spring at the Keeneland meet in Lexington, Ky.
Elliott rode a lot for Canadian-based Mark Casse.
Elliott finished second in the jockey standings with 15 wins from 73 mounts good for $557,650 in purses. The veteran rider showed a propensity for getting to the winner’s circle on the Polytrack as he tied for most synthetic winners (14). Elliott was just 1-for-16 on the grass.
So when Casse decided to bring a string this summer to Del Mar for the first time, Elliott was asked if he wanted to come west, too.
“We were trying to decide whether to go to Saratoga or Del Mar,” said Nelson Arroyo, Elliott’s agent, on Monday. “We have a good relationship with Mark and didn’t put any pressure on him. He just said if we wanted to come to Del Mar, come.”
There is no agreement for Elliott to ride first string for all of Casse’s horses, which number at least 36 so far at the seaside oval.
“We’re going to ride a lot of them,” said Casse. “Mark is really fair. If she’s another jockey fits a horse better, he will ride them.”
Jay Privman of the Daily Racing Form reporter via Twitter Monday that Victor Espinoza will ride Casse’s Conquestadory in Saturday’s San Clemente on the new turf course.
But Arroyo isn’t worried.
“I didn’t know anyone here two days ago,” said Arroyo, who is a former jockey himself, “but business is picking up quickly. We’ve working horses for John Sadler and Peter Miller.”
Arroyo booked mounts with trainer Barry Abrams for Thursday and Friday.
Arroyo said Elliott loves riding the Polytrack, the synthetic surface that will be making its final appearance this year before a return to dirt next year.
“He gets along with the Polytrack well,” said Arroyo. “He can put a horse on the lead or he can come from off the pace. It’s very easy to ride for him.”
Del Mar’s has rarely been called easy to ride since it seems sensitive to the weather, whether it’s warm or cooler due to the coastal overcast.
“I asked John Sadler how it plays,” said Arroyo, “and he said, ‘That’s a trick question.’
“Stewart likes to play it by ear. That’s why he’s so good on it. He gets a feeling for the horse and how he’s handling it and a feel for the track. He adapts each race.
“At Keeneland this spring, he won the first race on the lead on the fence, but by the third race he went to the outside. He told me during the second race, he could tell the rail was dying and getting deeper.”
Elliott will face similar conditions at Del Mar.
Hope he figures it out. Quickly.
@Jeff_Nahill on Twitter