The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club spent the last week talking to horsemen about coming to its annual summer meeting, looking to beef up a horse population that shrinks yearly. The efforts are working.
Woodbine trainer Mark Casse recently told Del Mar officials he will bring 30 to 40 horses this year for the first time. In Hot Springs, Ark., trainer Cody Autrey told Del Mar he will be back and hopefully earlier like during the the Los Alamitos meet.
Del Mar officials then moved on to Lexington, Ky., and the Keeneland meet to tell more horsemen about the third year of the “Ship N Win” program which gives horses a starting gate and purse bonus in their initial start of the meeting as long as their last start was out of state.
The big get is Casse, who started Delegation in last year’s Pacific Classic.
“He came close to coming last year,” said Tom Robbins, executive vice president/racing. “He was all set and then they had a virus outbreak and there was no movement into the United States. We’re excited. We have our fingers crossed.”
“That’s the plan,” said Casse on last week’s NTRA teleconference. “I’ve been in communications with Del Mar. I’ve cleared it with my owners and the plan is currently to bring probably between 30 and 40 horses to Del Mar, and then probably stay there maybe for who knows how long; a long time.”
The key with Casse is that he has a lot of allowance horses, which will help increase the quality of Del Mar’s races.
“He liked what he saw last year, and he has California owners,” said Robbins, “but the key is he’s planning on staying beyond our meet and that’s good for the industry.”
Casse won nine races and $368,653 from 84 starters this winter at Gulfstream Park. In the first week of the Keeneland meet, he has a 27-5-3-5 record with earnings of $305,312 and during the first weekend of racing at Woodbine (in Toronto) Casse was 7-2-1-1, earning $86,193.
Another key to the Casse move is that Keeneland and Woodbine have Polytracks, a similar surface which will be making its swan song at the seaside oval this summer before being replaced by dirt next year.
Jockey Luis Contreras rides many of Casse’s top horses at Woodbine and rode Delegation (poorly, I might say) in last year’s Pacific Classic, but don’t expect him to come to Del Mar as the barn rider.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Casse. “You know, Luis does really well at Woodbine. It would be kind of crazy for him to come out there. I don’t know who. Somebody may come with me. I mean there’s plenty of good riders in California. I don’t think I really have to bring anybody. You know, (Hall of Fame jockey) Mike Smith and we go back probably 25 or 30 years, and so there are a lot of good riders. We’ll just have to wait and see.
“So far we’ve been very lucky recently at Keeneland with Stewart Elliott, and, you know, we’ll just have to see how things are going. I like the way he rides, and him and I have a good relationship, but we may or may not bring somebody. That just remains to be seen. But like I said, I’m not concerned. There’s a lot of good riders in California.”
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Sunday’s top choice winners: 2 (Queen of the Hill $5.20, third; Cat Burglar $5.20, fifth)
Sunday’s second choice winners: 1 (Kid Rollins $7, ninth)
Sunday’s third choice winners: 1 (Stormy Lucy $5.40, fourth)
Sunday’s long shot winners: 1 (Remind Mee $8.40, seventh)
Note: Racing resumes at Santa Anita on Saturday/Sunday for the close of the winter/spring meet. There will be mandatory Pick 6 and Super High 5 payouts on Sunday. The spring/summer meet opens Friday, April 24.)