Yep, I was at Opening Day at Del Mar on Wednesday with 44,906 others, which was the track’s largest and likely best-dressed crowd of all time. Although it was sunny, the weather wasn’t too hot, as a refreshingly cool Pacific Ocean sea breeze acted as our natural air conditioner.
Coming from roasting Las Vegas where the wind blows hot like a convection oven, I appreciated the climate change.
You won’t find another Wednesday crowd like this at any horse track on planet Earth. Opening Day obviously has become one of San Diego’s annual social occasions, as the horse races have become a side show to partying and people watching. Women in wide-brimmed hats, tight dresses and spiked heels come looking more like they’re ready for a night on the town, rather than a day at the track. Randomly pick any 100 of them and you’ll get 10 who could be Sports Illustrated swimsuit models and another 25 that are better looking than your favorite movie actress. And one thing Las Vegas teaches you is that where women go, men follow.
Guys rolled up to Del Mar’s door in Cadillac Escalades and large Mercedes sedans wearing expensive suits, designer sunglasses and lots of hair gel. Of course, maybe 1 in 1,000 of these people will be found within a mile of any horse track in America on any other day.
But that’s beside the point. I overheard one guy in his 30’s describing the atmosphere to his friend on his cell phone saying, “You won’t believe this place. I’m in love with horse racing.”
So it’s safe to say that some were converted. But if the new fans come back next Wednesday seeking the same experience, they’ll likely be disappointed when they look around and see nothing but middle-aged men studying racing forms in their work clothes.
During the day, I roamed around Del Mar like I owned the place. I took my camera out to the paddock area where the owners, trainers and jockeys all gather while their horses get ready to compete. Or as one young woman said “It’s where the horses go to show off before they race.” I’ll publish some of the photos over the weekend.
Tragedy struck in the third race when Mi Rey broke his right front leg and dumped jockey Rafael Bejarano. The rider was then kicked in the face by Senor Afortunado and Bejarano was treated at Scripps Memorial Hospital for a broken jaw, a broken nose and several fractured facial bones. As Mi Rey was loaded onto the horse ambulance, security allowed me onto the track to photograph the solemn scene.
On Thursday, I plan to drive to Huntington Beach with a side trip to the off-track betting parlors in Ventura and Santa Barbara. Then I’ll come back to Del Mar on Friday to watch the horses go through their early morning workouts.
The horses I’m eyeballing in Thursday’s second race include #1 Wunderpferd and #6 Roman Charity. Both need to be 10/1 to 19/1 for a bet. In the fourth, I probably won’t bet anything because the Florida-bred first-time starters that I like — #2 Mytigernosissy and #4 Pico Pico — both have morning lines below 5-to-1 and I need at least 10-to-1. But in the nightcap, it’s likely that I’ll be on #7 Pacific Halo and #11 Waves of Honour at 2/1 to 7/2 and I also like #8 Moral Hazard at 3/1 to 9/1.
Maiden claiming $50,000, 5-1/2 furlongs, 2 yo fillies
Possible overlays Morning line
#2 Deputy Judy R N 3/1
#3 Dixie Saint 20/1
#4 Our Bellini Bikini 5/1
#5 Punctual 6/1
#7 Action Gal 6/1
#9 Wicked Trip 20/1
Lots and lots of inexperienced runners in here. In fact, only three of the nine fillies have raced and two of those ran only one time.
I like these races because bettors usually won’t pound down a first-time starter, and if they do, the low price makes that horse one of the worst long-term wagers at the race track.In this race, the horses who have run before didn’t show much, so I’ll take my chances that the winner will be a horse making its first start.
Breaking from the rail, #1 Bye Bye Hollywood did well on May 21 to get the lead while leaving from a wide post position at 4-1/2 furlongs. The gate is positioned so close to the turn at 4-1/2 furlongs that it’s almost impossible to win from any stall outside of the 4 post.
The problem I see with Bye Bye Hollywood is that her Beyer Speed Figure was only 26 and this class of fillies usually run in the low to middle 60s. At 3-to-1, she is too risky.
The two first timers that look the best are #2 Deputy Judy R N and #7 Action Gal. Trainer Kathy Walsh has a poor winning percentage with first-time runners, but Deputy Judy R N is working out well and this type of horse is a good bet at 7/2 to 19/1. Mike Machowsky, who trains Action Gal, has a good win record with Lo Hi Stable over the years when they send a horse out for the first time. But I will need a much better price than 7/2.
Also, #4 Our Bellini Bikini has strong breeding, trainer and jockey angles in it’s favor.
For some reason, I don’t know why, Florida-breds have been winning with greater frequency first-time out than horses bred in California or Kentucky. I don’t particularly like when debuting horses train at Fairplex or San Luis Rey Downs, but #3 Dixie Saint, #5 Punctual and #9 Wicked Trip were all bred in Florida. Therefore, I give them all a longshot’s chance.
At the betting windows, I will put $250 to win on #2 Deputy Judy R N at 7/2 to 19/1, $100 on #7 Action Gal at 5/1 to 19/1, but $200 if Action Gal is 10/1 to 19/1. On #4 Our Bellini Bikini, I’ll bet $200 at 5/1 to 9/1, but just $100 at 10/1 to 19/1.
Also, I’ll put $50 on any of these runners at 10/1 to 19/1 only: #3 Dixie Saint, #5 Punctual, and #9 Wicked Trip.