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Oceanside marks debut of Del Mar's new turf course

Enterprising reverts to arguably his best distance in the one-mile Oceanside (Benoit Photos)
A new turf will meet the surf down at old Del Mar when the seaside track raises the curtain on its 75th summer season Thursday. The 36-day meet, which runs through September 3, marks the unveiling of the expanded turf course. Designed to be a wider, safer racing surface, the freshly-laid sod replaces the track's original course that had been installed in 1960.

In its new incarnation, the Jimmy Durante turf course will still be the stage for the traditional opening-day feature, the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes. The one-mile turf test for three-year-olds will not be split into its usual divisions, however, for it attracted a total of 13 entrants, including one also-eligible.

Enterprising, a well-bred son of Elusive Quality, looms large in this spot. A perfect three-for-three at a mile, the Tom Proctor pupil was along in time in both the December 28 Eddie Logan and the March 22 Pasadena. Enterprising hasn't been as effective over further, but lost no luster when third in the April 19 La Puente going 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita. The form looks rock-solid, with the winner Flamboyant just finishing third in the lucrative Belmont Derby, and runner-up Home Run Kitten taking the June 21 Singletary.

The respective second through fourth in the Singletary -- Argyle Cut, Home School and Forever Juanito -- renew rivalry in the Oceanside, along with Singletary seventh Aotearoa, who hasn't won since his victory in the Zuma Beach last October.

Diamond Bachelor brings a profile similar to Aotearoa, in that he is still trying to regain his juvenile form. The Patrick Biancone trainee was mightily impressive when taking his first two starts at this course and distance last summer, highlighted by a wire job in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf. But since he was collared late by Aotearoa in the Zuma Beach, Diamond Bachelor hasn't managed to hit the board. Blinkers didn't help when he tired to sixth last time in the La Puente, and he takes off the headgear while getting a rider switch to Julien Couton.

Texas Ryano warrants respect in his stakes debut for Carla Gaines. By Curlin, and a half-brother to Tiz Elemental, Holladay Road, Tiz a Blend and Excessive Blend, Texas Ryano was an eye-catching last-to-first winner of a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Santa Anita. If he can prosper on the cutback in trip at this level, he can become the fifth stakes winner produced by his dam, Grade 3 victress Blending Element.

Diamond Bachelor hopes that a return to Del Mar will spark a change of fortune (Benoit Photos)
Also stepping up into stakes company are Godolphin's Yard Line, a recent maiden winner who tries turf for the first time; Majestic Kitten, a new recruit to the David Hofmans barn who had won both of his starts at Woodbine; and Love Rules All, most recently victorious in a downhill turf sprint at Santa Anita. Two others were last seen in the blanket finish to the June 8 Silky Sullivan at Golden Gate -- third-placer Patriots Rule and fourth G. G. Ryder, who had previously landed the Alcatraz. The also-eligible, Sammy Mandeville, would make his stakes debut if he draws into the Oceanside, which is a stepping stone to the track's sophomore championship event, the Grade 2, $300,000 Del Mar Derby on August 31.

Aside from the turf course, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club offers a few other innovations for 2014. Its signal will be broadcast in high definition this summer, joining a select number of tracks across the country that provide a state-of-the-art signal. And following the summer stand, the track will conduct an inaugural 15-day fall meeting from November 7-30, making for a first-ever Del Mar double-header.

At the helm, once again, will be DMTC's Executive Vice President for racing and industry relations, Tom Robbins, who is on board for his 34th summer. But whereas Robbins filled the role of the track's racing secretary in the past (he'd done so for 25 years), this time around he'll cede that job to David Jerkens. He joined the Del Mar team this spring after an extended stint in the racing department and as racing secretary at Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area. Jerkens, who grew up in a racing family, also had worked in the racing department of the New York Racing Association and brings a solid background to his new role.

Although unusual, Del Mar's Thursday opener is not unprecedented. The starting date was moved from its customary Wednesday spot to Thursday for only the fourth time in track history, on account of the San Diego County Fair. With the fair closing on July 6, officials believed that having an extra day to prepare the grounds and the racing surface -- and to allow horses to adapt to it -- was a safety priority. Del Mar last opened on a Thursday in 1999, and also opened on that day in 1969 and 1956.

The Oceanside kicks off the $8.05 million stakes schedule, featuring a total of 43 events. The 33 stakes will carry purses ranging from $100,000 to $1 million, while the 10 overnight contests will each be worth $90,000. Additionally, the seaside oval is projected to provide horsemen with more than $700,000 in daily purses, the richest in the state of California and among the richest of any race meeting in America.

Del Mar's signature race, the $1 million Pacific Classic, headlines a stakes tripleheader on August 24. Now in its 24th running, the 1 1/4-mile test for three-year-olds and up offers Grade 1 status and a $600,000 winner's share. The Pacific Classic will be supported by a pair of $250,000 Grade 2 features -- the Pat O'Brien Stakes at seven furlongs and the Del Mar Mile on turf.

All told, the track will offer seven Grade 1 races, starting with the Eddie Read Stakes at nine grassy furlongs on its opening Sunday and finishing with the Del Mar Futurity at seven furlongs on closing day. Other cream-of-the-crop events are the Bing Crosby Stakes at six furlongs (July 27), the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at 1 1/16 miles (August 2), the Del Mar Oaks at nine panels on the lawn (August 16) and the Del Mar Debutante at seven-eighths (August 30). With the exception of the Pacific Classic, all of Del Mar's Grade 1 races carry purses of $300,000.

Five of Del Mar's stakes once again have been designated Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races, meaning a guaranteed starting spot as well as the payment of all fees for designated Breeders' Cup races will be earned by the winners. Those races are the Bing Crosby (for the Turf Sprint), Clement L. Hirsch (Distaff), the August 23 Del Mar Handicap (Turf), Pat O'Brien (Dirt Mile) and Pacific Classic (Classic).

Additionally, five of the track's Grade 2 stakes have had their purses enhanced by $50,000 each this year. They are the San Clemente Handicap for three-year-old fillies (on Saturday), Best Pal Stakes for two-year-olds (August 3), Sorrento Stakes for two-year-old fillies (August 6) and Yellow Ribbon Handicap for older fillies and mares (September 1), all increased from $150,000 to $200,000. The Del Mar Mile has gone from $200,000 to $250,000.

Del Mar's total purses, which last year finished up at more than $707,000 per day for a track record, are projected to provide similar economic incentives to its horsemen in 2014. Straight maiden races once more will be contested for $75,000 purses; first-level allowance races will carry $85,000 pots; and the lowest selling races for $8,000 claimers will offer $20,000 prizes.

After the opening week, racing will be held on a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule for the balance of the season with one additional day of sport on Labor Day Monday, September 1. First post throughout the meet is normally 2 p.m. (PDT). Fridays are an exception when the track presents its "Four O'Clock Friday" programs featuring popular rock bands following the day's last race. First post on all Fridays is 4 p.m.

With Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien as founding fathers, Del Mar has always been a popular attraction (Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com)
Del Mar will present its full range of betting options again this season, encompassing 14 different types of wagers. Aside from the traditional win, place and show, the track offers several five- and six-horse combination bets.

The Pick 6, one of the most popular selections at the track, will be presented once more with guaranteed pools on all racing days. The bet, which requires that fans pick the winners of the last six races on the day's card and often results in large payoffs, will have a guaranteed pool of $100,000 on weekdays and $200,000 on weekends. Last season, Del Mar's Pick 6 pools averaged $101,000 per payout. Additionally, there will be guaranteed pools on the Pick 4, requiring the selection of winners in the day's final four events. The guaranteed pool for this 50-cent minimum wager is $250,000 on weekdays and $500,000 on weekends. Pick 4 payouts averaged $1,300 during Del Mar's 2013 meet.

Further, the popular "Sunday winner's bonus" again will be in force for the third straight season. In this arrangement, the track provides a $50,000 winner's bonus for each Sunday's Pick 6. The bonus is for winning tickets only, so in the case of five fans hitting the bet, each would have an additional $10,000 added to their prize. If there are no winning Pick 6 tickets on a Sunday program, that $50,000 bonus will be added to the carryover for the next racing day. The lone exception to the Sunday bonus is when there is already a carryover coming into a Sunday program, in which case no additional bonus monies will be provided.

In a new arrangement for this meeting, Del Mar will drop its takeout rate on its rolling Daily Doubles to 20 percent after previously offering them at 22.68 percent. The track will provide a Daily Double on every race on all its cards with the exception of the day's final contest.

The summer betting menu also will present the popular 50-cent Player's Pick 5 for the fourth year in a row. The wager requires picking the winners of the day's first five races and will be available at a reduced takeout rate of only 14 percent.

The full array of Del Mar bets is as follows: $2 win, place and show; $1 Exacta; $2 Quinella; $1 Trifecta; $2 rolling Doubles; $1 rolling Pick Threes; $1 Superfecta (10-cent minimum); $1 Place Pick All; 50-cent Super High Five; $2 Pick 6; 50-cent Player's Pick 5; and 50-cent Pick 4.

Del Mar's betting pools are among the biggest in the country and last year they helped the track average more than $13 million daily in handle, putting it among the cream of the nation's wagering crop. Part of the reason the track was so popular with bettors on-track, online and at satellites was its average field size of a solid 8.8 horses per race.

For the third straight season, Del Mar will present a "race ready" racehorse sale in its paddock following the day's races on the first Sunday of the season, July 20. As of July 13, 31 horses have been cataloged for the auction, including Grade 1 veterans Jeranimo and Heir Kitty as well as Grade 2 scorers Ciao Bella Luna and Handsome Mike.

Barretts Sales, which conducted the two earlier sessions, once more will be at the controls for the 2014 sale. Barretts General Manager Kim Lloyd noted that the upcoming session will not have nearly as many out-of-state horses as the others, but is much higher in quality of the stock.

"This event is getting better and better," Lloyd said. "Interest this year is strong and this might be our best session yet. We've brought brand new owners into the game with both of our earlier sales and that's the key for us. New owners are good for everyone in our game."

The out-of-state horses in the sale all qualify immediately for Del Mar's successful "Ship and Win" program, now in its fourth year. Horses bought out of the sale who run at Del Mar earn an automatic starter check for $1,000, plus a bonus of 33 1/3 percent on top of their regular purse share in their first seaside start.

Last-minute sellers can still contact Barretts at (909) 629-3099, or at info@barretts.com. Entries will be accepted through Tuesday.

Those considering attending the sale as potential buyers may wish to take part in the TOC's "new owners" seminar, which will be held the day of the sale from 9 to 11 a.m. in the track's Veranda Cafe overlooking the paddock. Reservations are suggested and can be arranged by phone (626) 574-6620, or online at www.toconline.com.

Also on Del Mar's special events agenda are the Opening Day Hats Contest on Thursday, the August 9 Grill Fest and the August 16 Gourmet Food Truck Festival. The Grill Fest, featuring the flavorings of more than 25 seasoned B-B-Q pros, once more will benefit Kristie's Place, a children's end-of-life care organization headquartered in Southern California. The fourth edition of the Gourmet Food Truck Festival will feature as many as 55 trucks from throughout Southern California.

Fans can keep up with all of the activities at www.delmarscene.com, along with the track website, www.dmtc.com, and its social media channels -- Twitter and Instagram (@DelMarRacing) as well as Facebook at www.facebook.com/DelMarRaces.

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