As we approach the halfway point of Del Mar’s 36-day summer meet, horse fatalities are down dramatically, from 17 last year to only two so far in 2017. While any number of fatalities is too high, Del Mar management, to its credit, realized last year’s travesty had to be corrected.
They brought in highly respected track superintendent Dennis Moore, who adjusted the main track’s banking to that of Santa Anita’s and also made other adjustments to the surface. They cut the number of horses on the backstretch so there would be less traffic in the mornings, and the horses come under much tighter scrutiny now than before.
“Best Southern Cal track I’ve been on in 30 years,” Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens told me in a text message.
“I’d give the proverbial ‘game ball’ so far this meet to the Del Mar management and Dennis Moore,” trainer Doug O’Neill said in reply to a text. “Keeping the first 10 minutes after each track renovation solely for ‘workers’ has kept the congestion way down. Rebanking the main track has been a big help, too. So far, so great!”
Texted trainer John Sadler: “So far it looks OK. But they need more time to prepare before the meet (following the San Diego County Fair). The most important thing they did was bring in Dennis Moore as track man. I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith concedes the track is deeper and slower than last year, but he likes it, saying, “I haven’t ridden that many on it really, but it seems real safe.”
Yes, it’s slower. Much slower.
Last year, Lord Nelson won the six-furlong Bing Crosby Stakes in 1:07.65. Ransom the Moon won the race this year in 1:09.63. Stellar Wind’s winning time in this year’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at 1 1/16 miles was 1:43.92, more than two seconds slower than the 1:41.24 she ran while winning the race in 2016.
Maybe the track was too fast and too firm last summer?
“That was a track that, if you compare the times from last summer to this summer … it may have suited a certain type of horse last summer and yet we had injuries, something that we weren’t going to accept,” said Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s director of racing. “We had to do something. It’s not like we’re injury-free here this summer, but we’re doing a lot better.”
But not in some trainers’ eyes.
According to the Daily Racing Form, Peter Miller is concerned about the condition of the track and how his horses have fared…