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2005 Del Mar Preview

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The paddock at Del Mar

The paddock at Del Mar

Cindy Pierson Dulay
Updated July 14, 2005
If it's July, it must be time for another season of exciting Thoroughbred racing at the seashore playground that is Del Mar. Founded by entertainment icons Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien in 1937, Del Mar will open its 66th season of racing Wednesday, July 20, and will feature its richest stakes program. The six-day-a-week, 43-day schedule runs through Wednesday, September 7. There will be no racing on Tuesdays.

Del Mar's laid-back, fun-loving style and Crosby's daily siren song, "Where the Turf Meets the Surf," mark it as a setting for a spectacular salute to the sport and a place where horses, trainers, jockeys and owners seemingly are united in efforts to make each season better than the last. The track, operated by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, sits just a few furlongs from the shimmering Pacific Ocean about 20 miles north of San Diego and 100 miles south of Los Angeles.

Headlining the record $6,775,000 stakes program, of course, is the 15th running of the $1-million, Grade I Pacific Classic, to be contested by 3-year-olds and older Sunday, August 22, at 1 1/4 miles on the main track. It is one of six Grade I events slated for the meeting. Top prospects for the track's signature event include Lava Man, Congrats, Minister Eric, and Perfect Drift.

The season begins with a flurry of stakes action over the first five days, spotlighting two of the track's top turf tests of the meet, the $400,000 John C. Mabee Handicap on Saturday, July 23, and the $400,000 Eddie Read on Sunday, July 24. Both are Grade I events at 1 1/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course, with the Mabee matching fillies and mares aged 3 and up and the Read open to all horses, aged 3 and up. The highlight of opening day is the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes, annually one of the track's most popular stakes with horsemen. The 3-year-old test on grass at a mile has been split 23 times in its 58 runnings, including the last 16 years in a row. It serves as one of two major preps for the track's top 3-year-old race, the Del Mar Derby.

Del Mar's two premier sprint stakes, the Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien handicaps, have both had major purse increases and should attract the top sprinters in the country. The Grade I Crosby, slated for its 60th running on Sunday, July 31 at six furlongs, will have its purse elevated from $250,000 to $300,000. The Grade II O'Brien, which will be presented for the 20th time on Sunday, August 21 at seven furlongs, will rise from a $200,000 test to one for $300,000. The Crosby, which for the last nine years has been designated a Breeders' Cup race, will have that title removed for the 2005 renewal. The O'Brien, which was a Breeders' Cup race from 1990 through 1995, then again last year, will continue as a Breeders' Cup event this summer.

While the horses are on-track stars at the shore, trainers and jockeys get attention, too. Perennial training leader Bob Baffert will be trying to regain the title he held for 7 straight years vefore losing it to Dough O'Neill in 2004. O'Neil had 28 winners out of 126 starters in 2004 with Jeff Mullins in second with 24 and Baffert third with 17. Corey Nakatani will be back to defend his title from 2004 where he narrowly beat out Tyler Baze with 54 wins to Baze's 52.

In addition to the racing, there are many of other events planned daily. Lots of concerts, movies, handicapping seminars, giveaways and family fun are scheduled. Del Mar is a great place to take the family for the weekend and even has a nice playground in the infield to keep the kids busy. So come on out to Del Mar this summer and have some fun!

Post time for the majority of race days is 2 p.m., with the exception of Fridays and the 1 p.m. start on Pacific Classic Day, August 22. For the most part, eight races are slated on weekdays with 10 on Saturdays and nine of Sundays.

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