By Margaret Ransom
The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s 2020 summer race meet gets underway on Friday (July 10), and will operate for the first time on a three-day-a-week race schedule.
It’ll be racing on Friday through Sunday, down from the five- and six-day seasons held in previous years. The first batch of horses shipped into the Southern California track on June 26 and the backstretch is at near capacity in number of horses.
“We’re coming back and we’re going to put on the most unique show in Del Mar history,” Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said. “It’s going to look different, it’s going to feel different, but it’s going to be first-class horse racing at Del Mar and in these unusual times that’s something to look forward to.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the track will adhere to strict health guidelines issued by San Diego County public health officials, California state officials and in consultation with other public health experts. This year, the track’s traditional summer meeting will operate without spectators or owners, limiting participation to trainers, jockeys and backstretch employees, such as exercise riders, grooms and hotwalkers, all of whom will undergo daily health checks, temperature checks and adhere to strict safety guidelines like masks and proper social distancing when possible.
“Over the past several weeks Del Mar has joined with other racing industry leaders to develop extensive operating procedures to permit horse racing in a way that ensures the safety of all employees, stakeholders and our horses,” Josh Rubinstein, DMTC’s president and COO said. “A number of medical experts throughout the country have provided guidance and helped us develop a comprehensive plan. DMTC’s planning has benefitted from additional direction and aid from local experts such as Scripps Health’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, and her colleagues.”
The season was originally scheduled to open its 81st summer season on July 18, but with the reduction in live racing days per week the meet will now open a week early. The track will offer 10-race cards on Fridays and Sundays and 11-race cards on Saturdays. Opening day offers a 10-race program, while closing day (Labor Day) will offer 10 races.
The new schedule calls for 291 races over nine weeks. The track carded 297 races over its eight-week 2019 summer meeting so not much racing will be cut. The stakes schedule features 38 races offering more than $5.5 million in purses. The first added-money event is the traditional opening day headliner, the $100,000 Runhappy Oceanside Stakes, a one-mile turf test for 3-year-olds that kicks off the track’s turf series for sophomores.
A total of 32 stakes will carry purses of at least $100,000, plus six overnight stakes each worth $65,000. Twenty-one of the stakes events are graded – six Grade 1’s, 11 Grade 2’s and four Grade 3’s. Eighteen of the stakes will be contested on the track’s Jimmy Durante Turf Course, while the other 20 will be offered for the main track.
The $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes on Aug. 1 for the first time will have a direct effect on the Kentucky Derby (G1) as this year, thanks to the postponement of the Run for the Roses to Sept. 5, the race has been lengthened from one mile to 1 1/16 miles and now will offer the all-important Road to the Derby qualifying points (50-20-10-5) to the top four finishers. This year Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Honor A.P. is expected to be in the gate for the Shared Belief.
“It’s nice to offer local horseman who have horses on the Kentucky Derby trail the option to stay home and not have to ship out of town to earn Derby qualifying points,” Tom Robbins. head of Del Mar’s racing department and executive vice president of racing, said. “Overall, I’m happy to report we’re presenting a very similar stakes schedule that our horsemen have been used to over the past several years. We again will feature a blockbuster TVG Pacific Classic Day card with five graded stakes in one afternoon. And, certainly, to offer 38 stakes over 28 days of racing is impressive anyway you look at it.”
In addition to the 30th running of the $500,000 TVG Pacific Classic (G1) on Saturday, Aug. 22, the track will also host the $250,000 Del Mar Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies; $200,000 Del Mar Handicap (G2) for 3-year-olds and up; the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies; and the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap (G3) for 3-year-olds and up on the same day.
The track’s other Grade 1 events during the season are the $250,000 Bing Crosby Stakes at 6 furlongs on Aug. 1; the $250,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 2; the $250,000 Del Mar Debutante at 7 furlongs on Sept. 6, and the $250,000 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity at 7 furlongs on Sept. 7.
As in previous summers, five of the track’s key stakes have been scheduled as Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying races, meaning a victory in any of them will guarantee the winner an all-expenses paid entry in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup division. The TVG Pacific Classic is a “Win and You’re In” race that assures entry into the $7 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and the other four “Win and You’re In” races are the Bing Crosby ($2 million BC Sprint); the Clement L. Hirsch ($2 million BC Distaff); the Del Mar Handicap ($6 million BC Turf); and the Grade 2, $150,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes on Aug. 29 ($2 million BC Dirt Mile.)
The two-day Breeders’ Cup program this year will be held at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 6-7 and will return to Del Mar in 2021.
The seaside oval will also offer its usual complement of eight California-bred stakes, part of the state’s Golden State Stakes Series consisting of 39 restricted stakes for registered California-bred, or sired, horses conducted at the various state racetracks.
Del Mar’s Cal-bred stakes are the $100,000 Fleet Treat, $125,000 California Dreamin’, the $100,000 Real Good Deal, the $100,000 CTBA, the $100,000 Graduation, the $125,000 Solana Beach, the $100,000 Generous Portion, and the $100,000 I’m Smokin.
The entire Del Mar Stakes Schedule can be found here.
Even without spectators, Del Mar’s racing season is important to the continued economic viability of California’s horse racing industry. The regular care and training of racehorses in the state supports thousands of jobs, housing and health care services for workers, as well as hundreds of local small businesses and family farms.
Wagering on Del Mar’s races will continue remotely via on-line platforms like TVG and at off-track betting locations around the world. In 2019, 90 percent of wagering on Del Mar’s races took place off-track and during the recent “Safer At Home” guidelines in many states, Internet wagering has surged.
The track’s broadcast partner – TVG – will provide Del Mar coverage throughout the summer. NBC Sports is currently broadcasting TVG on its NBCSN channel.
First post daily throughout the summer will be at 2 p.m. through closing day on Labor Day (Sept. 7).
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.