Every year horsemen point for the Del Mar meeting and hold back horses just to try and make a score at the seaside oval.
This 80th season should be no different, but there could be a lot different.
With the Santa Anita debacle, the state has lost plenty of its horse inventory.
You are going to see fewer races at Del Mar and smaller fields, which in turn means lower payoffs and likely more favorites winning races. Del Mar is likely to back load its cards in order to have more horses in the Pick Six races, which are the last six events of each day. It also means shorter fields for the first Pick Five, which Del Mar runs on the first five events of the day, but probably larger payoffs in the late Pick Five, which Del Mar added last year.
Long shots will come, just maybe not as frequently as in the past.
Here are some jockeys and trainers to watch during the summer meet with stats provided by Jim Mazur’s The Del Mar Handicapper 2019 (www.proghandicap.com):
The colony hasn’t changed too much except for the loss of Tyler Baze, who left Southern California during the spring for points east, most notably Kentucky. Baze will ride today on opening day but that might be his only appearance unless he has a stakes engagement or two.
Flavien Prat continues to lead the Southern California colony, especially in turf races. The France native just has a knack for the green stuff, but make no mistake he can ride on the dirt, too. When Prat teams up with trainers Richard Baltas, Simon Callaghan, Phil D’Amato and Peter Miller watch out. Prat and Miller won 47 percent of their races at the 2018 meet (7 for 15).
Drayden Van Dyke has grown up on the circuit since his apprentice days and is tough to deal with day in and day out. Van Dyke rides for all the top outfits, including Bob Baffert, John Sadler and Michael McCarthy.
Veteran Rafael Bejarano seems to have regained his magic from years past and he can be deadly when trying to get a horse home in the stretch. Joe Talamo is a steady rider who has made inroads into the Baffert barn.
Victor Espinoza is back after getting hurt at last year’s meet and Aaron Gryder has returned to the circuit full-time. Hall of Famer Mike Smith will ride a lot of the stakes races so if shows up on other horses take note.
Watch out for Amir Cedillo, who has moved his tack from Northern California and will get plenty of mounts from trainers on that circuit. Cedillo’s mounts have won $2.3 million this year and $19.4 million in his career.
On the apprentice front, Jose Velez just won the nine-day Los Alamitos meet and J.C. Diaz has booted home some good-priced horses while carrying the weight allowance so many trainers like.
When talking Del Mar and training, the first name out of most people’s mouth is Baffert. The silver-fox loves to show off his bright, shiny new 2-year-olds at the seaside oval. The problem is Baffert’s horses almost always go favored and for good reason because they are always well-meant first time out. However, if you bet on every Baffert horse over the last three years you would be down $94 and the average price of his winners is just $6. Ouch. A good angle is to bet the “other” Baffert when he enters two horses in the same race.
Other top trainers but losing propositions the last three years are D’Amato (minus $178), Doug O’Neill (minus minus $311) and Keith Desormeaux (minus $122). It should be noted that banned trainer Jerry Hollendorfer showed a loss of $253 the last three years despite 27 winners and his horses will run with his assistant Dan Ward this season.
North County resident Miller has been the Del Mar king the last three summers with 66 winners and a profit of $73, but it should be noted that he has moved approximately 33 percent of his stock out of state due to new regulations so it will be interesting to see what happens. Miller only has horses entered in two races over the first two days of the meet. Miller does well in all categories.
Shockingly, the Sadler barn has shown a $206 profit the last three years and average price of $17 with his winners. Sadler always has top stock, especially for Hronis Racing, and when his turf sprinters win they average $38.
Jeff Bonde (plus $136) and Jim Cassidy (plus $106) have shown a profit over the last three years. You have to watch out for Bonde with California-bred horses and Cassidy also seems to have a way with turf sprinters.
An under-the-radar trainer to watch out for is Andrew Lerner, who was 3 for 9 last summer. Lerner is very good with horses making their first start of the meet and first start off of a 30-day layoff. He has increased his stock this year and can also play the claiming game.