Analysis: Can Del Mar's surface be likened to Santa Anita?

November 08, 2019 09:55am
Given all the talk of a slower, deeper surface at Santa Anita throughout Breeders' Cup, a discussion of Del Mar's dirt surface and whether it has taken the same turn is in order. Racing resumes Friday at the seaside oval, and there's a summer meet there to examine closer.

From a visual standpoint, it had appeared Del Mar's dirt surface also played slower and more taxing than in previous years given the focus on equine safety in California.

On closer inspection, though, published reports didn't cite changes in the ground, and a review of Del Mar's five Grade 1 summer races shows faster times year over year in three events.

But there are some unusual results to point out in possible relation to the surface bettors should consider as the "Bing Crosby Meet" begins.

For example, Ransom the Moon closed to win the 2018 Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) in 1:10.08 after some lively fractions of 21.93, 44.78 and 57.39. This year, Cistron went gate to wire in 1:09.95 after setting the pace in 22.10, 45.16 and 57.31.

Cistron's fractions were slower, but there is something strange to note about the pace. Despite getting chased by two quality speed horses in Chief Cicatriz and Recruiting Ready, Cistron did not match 2018's pace. Yet Chief Cicatriz and Recruiting Ready both folded to finish sixth and seventh, respectively.

In the 2018 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1), Unique Bella set the pace in 23.25, 46.80 and 1:11.56 before winning in 1:44.40. This year, Ollie's Candy won in 1:44.66 after similar fractions of 23.05, 46.68 and 1:11.32.

The efforts of late closer La Force are notable, as she rallied strongly in 2018 to lose by half a length to Unique Bella. Yet, she lost by 5 ¼ lengths to Ollie's Candy, who most would not consider as talented as champion Unique Bella.

La Force didn't appear to regress much if any this season, either, as she won the Santa Maria Stakes (G2) in June, only one start prior to the Clement L. Hirsch.

Accelerate won the 2018 Pacific Classic (G1) by 12 ½ lengths in 2:01.83 after chasing fractions of 23.05, 46.69 and 1:11.25. While it is unfair to compare Accelerate to Higher Power, the latter won this year by pressing Quip through 23.68, 47.69 and 1:12.65, before winning in 2:02.43.

Quip folded as if he had run monstrous fractions, finishing ninth by 29 ½ lengths. Tenfold mounted a rally approaching the far turn but hit a wall after taking dirt behind Draft Pick and Mongolian Groom. He ended up fourth by 9 ½ lengths.

In the 2018 Del Mar Debutante (G1), Bellafina won by 4 ¼ lengths. She pressed fractions of 21.93, 44.68 and 1:10.76, before finishing in 1:25.51. Bast finished faster on raw time this year, winning by 8 ¾ lengths in 1:23.73, after stalking a three-way speed duel in 22.55, 44.88 and 1:10.57.

The speed duel between Stellar Sound, Inspiressa and Leucothea oddly went in moderate fractions at first glance. Yet, Leucothea also folded as if she contested the lead at an insane clip, folding to eighth by 29 lengths. Leucothea went on to win the Anoakia Stakes by 8 ½ lengths.

The last race to examine is the 2018 Del Mar Futurity (G1). Last year, Game Winner closed to win by 1 ½ lengths in 1:23.18 after Rowayton set the table with 22.53, 45.35 and 1:10.05 fractions. This year, Nucky won a trouble-filled Futurity after pressing Garth and Fore Left through fractions of 21.89, 44.90 and 1:11.09, before taking the race in a sluggish 1:25.52.

It is notable that talented contenders Eight Rings and Storm the Court lost their jockeys near the start.

Garth and Fore Left folded badly, finishing fifth by 14 ¼ lengths and sixth by 29 ¾ lengths. Assuming the track is deeper, it is understandable those two had nothing left after posting faster fractions than last year. Also, Ginobili moved inside and took the lead on the turn, before fading to fourth.

The closers finished well this time, with Wrecking Crew and Defense Wins picking up second and third late. But Nucky somehow endured the pace.

This is only from a handicapper's perspective, but in all likelihood, there was softer ground and more kickback during the summer Del Mar meet, similar to but not as severe as what we saw in recent weeks at Santa Anita.

It's a debatable opinion, and perhaps a case of overanalysis. But
too much controversy exists at Santa Anita to think Del Mar did not at least tinker with its surface, thought that might not show up in the final times.

As the meet opens Friday, look to confirm or refute these findings, and use it to your advantage as a player.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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