Del Mar, Horse racing

Week that was: Ragin’ Cajun back in form at Del Mar

In reality it wasn’t a very good week the last five racing days at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

Too many horses died, including the freakish death of the very good 3-year-old Dance With Fate, and too many jockeys ended up on the dirt or turf. The vibe, I hear from colleagues, wasn’t good on Sunday. Luckily, none of the jockeys who were involved in the incidents appear to have suffered serious injuries.

Del Mar made the right decision in cancelling turf racing on Sunday after a rash of deaths the first two weeks of the meet on the new surface. I’m sure when racing resumes on Wednesday, Joe Harper will make the right decision again, if problems persist.

I’ll tell anyone who will listen that the first two weeks of any race meeting, and it seems particularly Del Mar, is when horses are at most risk because they are changing surfaces. It seems that trainers who get to Del Mar early, don’t have as much of a problem, but the fact is horses have to get used to new surfaces.

As for the action on the track, jockey Kent Desormeaux has rocketed to the top of the riding standings after two weeks with nine victories from 41 mounts. The Hall of Fame jockey from Louisiana is riding as well as I have seen him recently. He was real good back in the day and then hit a rough patch due to personal issues and the like. Let’s hope that is all past him and he’s back in his glory days again.

Jockeys Tyler Baze and Elvis Trujillo, second and third in the current standings, continued strong campaigns so far. For the week Baze was 5-of-40 and Trujillo 4-of-29. Joe Talamo was 3-of-33 but it doesn’t seem like he’s riding well, to me. Talamo seems to be making big moves on the Polytrack turn for home and then flattening out. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but he seemed to ride the same way last year.

Martin Garcia was just 1-for-14, but he did miss Sunday to ride Bayern to victory in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Apprentice Drayden Van Dyke was 0-for-19, but we’ll cut him huge slack after getting dumped twice in races. He took Sunday off to recuperate.

A couple of other jockey notes, Tiago Pereira, who has earned the nickname “Mr. Long Shot” at the meet with victories on two 50-1 shots, begins a three-days suspension on Wednesday. Victor Espinoza isn’t named on horses on Friday. Brian Beach, Espinoza’s agent, said the horse his jockey was suppose to ride in the stakes didn’t enter and they didn’t have any other calls that day.

On the training end, Peter Miller, a Carlsbad resident, just keeps on trucking and is now a top the standings. Miller has seven wins for the meet and was 4-for-17 last week.

Doug O’Neill is second in the standings with five wins but he was just 1-for-21 on the week.

On the other end, John Sadler had a very frustrating week as his barn went 0-for-20. Look for a rebound soon.

@Jeff_Nahill on Twitter

Del Mar, Horse racing, Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita, Triple Crown

California Chrome’s connections fine with No. 5 draw in Derby

Jockey Victor Espinoza was more than happy when Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite California Chrome (5-2), who trains at Los Alamitos Race Course in Orange County, drew the No. 5 post for Saturday’s Run for the Roses in Louisville, Ky.

“It’s my lucky number,” said Espinoza.

Espinoza won the Kentucky Derby aboard War Emblem from post No. 5 for trainer Bob Baffert in 2002.

California Chrome also won the Santa Anita Derby from post five in his last start and the 3-year-old, trained by Art Sherman, will be looking for his fifth straight victory on the track.

With California Chrome’s tactical speed, the No. 5 post should not prove a problem as Espinoza should be able to get out quickly and place him where he wants.

“He’s an amazing horse to ride,” said Espinoza. “I let him do his own thing. I think that’s why he’s running so great.”

Sherman obviously didn’t want to draw the No. 1 hole like Louisiana Derby winner Vicars In Trouble (30-1) did or the outside post in the 20-horse field like Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong (8-1).

“I like it fine,” said Sherman after the draw. “Victor says he likes it. I’m happy and I feel no pressure.”

California Chrome has been a step slow in two of his last five starts, but Sherman isn’t worried.

“We’re going to school (from the gate Thursday),” said Sherman. “(In a race) he’ll be standing there perfect and just before he gets anxious. When he puts those blinkers on he gets anxious because he knows it’s a whole new ballgame (race day).”

Arkansas Derby winner Danza (10-1) drew just inside California Chrome in the No. 4 post.

Other California horses drew toward the outside in Hoppertunity (6-1) at No. 11, Dance With Fate (20-1) at No. 12, Chitu (20-1) at No. 13 and Candy Boy (20-1) at No. 18 for trainer John Sadler and jockey Gary Stevens.

Hoppertunity, who finished second to California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, was made the second choice on the morning line after Wicked Strong drew the outside post.

However, four of the last six Derby winners have come from the auxiliary gate (post No. 15 and out) and the last three in a row have come from there.

Baffert trains both Hoppertunity and Chitu. He was fine with the draw for both.

“I’m happy with the way the horses are training and that’s more important,” he said. “The only disadvantage is that Hoppertunity is going to have to wait in the gate for a long time, but I’d rather wait in the 11-hole than wait in the one-hole. I think he’s second choice because he’s gotten the closest to California Chrome this year.”

Chitu is expected to be part of the speed in the 1¼-mile race.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Baffert. “The speed horses, you don’t know who’s going to break, who’s going to go, what if the pace isn’t fast? What if it’s a War Emblem pace and they keep going? I think nobody knows. We’re all assuming a lot of stuff but, this Derby, aside from that California Chrome has proven he’s a really good horse, there’s a lot of horses in there that are pretty close. There’s a lot of parity in this field so that’s why we have 20 horses, because everybody might have a chance. He’s fast. (Jockey) Martin Garcia thinks he can do it so he’s real confident about the horse.”

Trainer Peter Eurton didn’t have a problem with Blue Grass winner Dancer With Fate’s draw.

“I am thrilled with it,” he said. “There is a lot of speed to the inside of us rather than outside and that should give us a good chance to pick a spot.”

Sadler said he doesn’t worry about post draws.

“It’s OK,” Sadler said. “I’d rather be outside than in. And I don’t put a lot of energy into things I can’t control. We’ll figure out a strategy and go from there. I think we’ll be fine.”

Stevens said he was already planning a strategy as the draw progressed, but he wasn’t giving away any trade secrets.

@Jeff_Nahill on Twitter