D’AMATO’S FOCUS IS ON QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY, OF WINS
Phil D’Amato shared the 2017 Del Mar training championship with Richard Baltas when they saddled 18 winners apiece. D’Amato claimed it outright in 2016 with 23 wins.
But on Opening Day of the 2018 Del Mar Summer season, D’Amato allowed that his name wouldn’t be atop the leaderboard when the 79th such meeting comes to an end on Labor Day.
“Realistically, I don’t think I have the horses to do it,” D’Amato said Wednesday morning. “I’ve got a good chance to be competitive in the stakes races, that’s my focus. A big win total is neither here nor there. I’m trying to take down these stakes races and develop some horses.
“I really don’t have much in the claiming ranks and you really need those horses to get the ‘Ws’ to contend for a training title.”
The late Mike Mitchell, D’Amato’s mentor and the man whose stable D’Amato took over, strung together four straight training titles from 1981-84, one shared with D. Wayne Lukas. Since then, with the exception of Bob Baffert’s seven straight from 1997-2003, back-to-back has been the max for Del Mar titleists.
“I think it’s possible (to win more than two) these days if you have a real diversified stable with horses at all levels, top to bottom,” D’Amato said.
And while his streak may be ending, D’Amato has a strong suspicion about which of his fellow trainers is poised to start one here.
“If I’m a betting man and I’m betting on trainers to win the title this summer at Del Mar, I’m betting on Doug O’Neill,” D’Amato said. “He’s well diversified and he’s the heavy favorite.”
D’Amato’s stakes quest begins with today’s featured $100,000 Oceanside when he’ll saddle Heartfullofstars. It will extend through the opening weekend where he has Fizzy Friday for Friday’s Osunitas, Miss Sienna for Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 San Clemente, Bowies Hero and Hunt for Sunday’s $250,000 Grade II Eddie Read and Kenjisstorm for Sunday’s $75,000 Wickerr.
TEN TO GO IN SATURDAY’S SAN DIEGO
Defending race champion Accelerate will face nine challengers in Saturday’s Grade II $200,000 San Diego Handicap.
The draw for post positions was scheduled later Wednesday, but the entrants in alphabetical order are: Accelerate (Victor Espinoza), Catalina Cruiser (Drayden Van Dyke), Curlin Rules (Tyler Baze), Dabster (Flavien Prat), Dr. Dorr (Joe Talamo), El Huerfano (TBD), Harlan Punch (Martin Pedroza), Prince Of Arabia (Stewart Elliott), Sharp Samurai (Gary Stevens) and Two Thirty Five (Franklin Ceballos).
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic five times but has visited the winner’s circle after the San Diego, the major Classic prep event, only once. That was with Fed Biz in 2014.
Baffert will be doubly represented by Dr. Dorr, owned by his wife Natalie, and Dabster, owned by the Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum. Dr. Dorr won the Grade II Californian at Santa Anita in April and was second to Accelerate in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita last month.
Dabster was an allowance winner in his only Del Mar appearance on the undercard of the Breeders’ Cup program on Friday, November 3.
HALL OF FAMER MANUEL YCAZA PASSES AWAY AT 80
Hall of Fame jockey Manuel Ycaza, the Panamanian-born rider who paved the way for countrymen Braulio Baeza, Jorge Velazquez, Laffit Pincay, Jr. and Alex Solis to achieve success in the United States, died Monday at the age of 80 at his home in Forest Hills, New York.
Cause of death was sepsis (an infection), according to his son, Manuel Ycaza III.
Because of injuries, Ycaza retired in 1971. He staged a comeback in l983 which was short-lived, retiring for good the following year. During his successful career, he rode some of the great Thoroughbreds in American racing history, including Dr. Fager, Sword Dancer, Bald Eagle, Ack Ack, Damascus, Lamb Chop, Dark Mirage and Fort Marcy aboard whom he won numerous stakes. He won 2,367 races with a winning percentage of 22.4.
Born Feb. 1, 1938, Ycaza competed in Mexico City before emigrating to the United States in 1956, riding at Del Mar among other Southern California tracks before moving to the East Coast.
He competed in the Rocking Chair Derby at Del Mar in 1978, finishing third behind victorious Howard Grant in the special event which brought back retired jockeys. He received the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1964 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Funeral mass for Ycaza will be celebrated Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church in Forest Hills. Donations may be made in his name to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund at PDJF.org.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: CHAMPIONS OF 2017 SUMMER SEASON
Checking in on the current status of the horses voted champions in nine divisions for the 2017 Del Mar Summer Season.
Horse of the Meeting and Older Horse – Collected. Followed up his TVG Pacific Classic victory with a second to Gun Runner in the Breeders’ Cup Classic here to end a nearly $1.9 million earnings year in 2017 but was seventh in his lone 2018 start, the $12 million Pegasus Cup in January. Off since then, trainer Bob Baffert reports Collected has been training at a Kentucky farm and is expected at Del Mar next week to be assessed for a possible Classic title defense.
Sprinter – Ransom the Moon. Second in the Kona Gold Stakes and fifth in the Met Mile at Belmont in 2018, the 2017 Bing Crosby winner is planned to make a title defense in the $300,000 Grade I event on Saturday, July 28.
Grass Horse – Hunt. Scored a big win in the Grade I $400,000 Shoemaker Mile at the end of May and is targeted for the Grade II $250,000 Eddie Read on Sunday.
Older Filly or Mare – Stellar Wind. The Clement L. Hirsch Stakes winner the last two years was sold as a broodmare prospect in November for $6 million to Coolmore Stud to be bred to Galileo.
3-year-old – Sharp Samurai. Nominated for three stakes in the coming weekend – the San Diego, Eddie Read and Wickerr – the Mark Glatt trainee is most likely for the Read. Rested since a winning 2018 debut at Santa Anita in June, “He came off the break sharp and we’re hoping he can pick up right where he left off here last year,” Glatt said.
3-year-old filly – Dream Dancing. The ship-in winner of the Del Mar Oaks is 0-for-6 since while competing in stakes in the Midwest, East and Canada. Her most recent result was a ninth in the Dance Smartly at Woodbine on June 30.
2-year-old – Bolt d’Oro. The Futurity winner fared well in Kentucky Derby preps at Santa Anita, winning the San Felipe by disqualification over McKinzie and finishing second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby. But a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and last in the $1.2 million Met Mile on Belmont Stakes day prompted a current 60-day rest period at owner Mick Ruis’ farm in Kentucky.
2-year-old filly – Moonshine Memories. The Debutante winner was second in the Angels Flight at Santa Anita in her 2018 debut in May, then fourth to Kentucky Oaks winner Monomoy Girl in the Acorn at Belmont in June. Back in California, she’s the headliner in a field of seven in Thursday’s seventh race, an allowance with a purse of $67,000.
COMING IN HOT: THE JOCKEY AND TRAINER TITLEISTS OF RECENT MEETS
Flavien Prat claimed the riding title for the Santa Anita spring/summer season with 39 wins from 147 mounts, 11 more than Geovanni Franco accomplished with 183 rides. Joe Talamo was third with 27 wins from 160 mounts.
The trainer title went to Doug O’Neill, who won 31 times from 138 starters. Phil D’Amato was second (29-for-120) and Peter Miller third (25-for-125).
The three-week Los Alamitos meeting, which concluded on Sunday, saw 18-year-old apprentices Asa Espinoza and Heriberto Figueroa battle to a 12-win tie with each winning one of the final two races on Sunday.
Espinoza, who grew up in Arcadia, is the nephew of Hall of Fame rider Victor Espinoza. Figueroa hails from Puerto Rico.
The training title went to Bob Baffert, 5-4 over Steve Miyadi.
PARADISE WOODS DRAWS RAIL FOR FRIDAY’S OSUNITAS
Two-time Grade I winner Paradise Woods will break from post position No. 1 and face 11 rivals in Friday’s featured Osunitas Stakes. Owned by Pam and Marty Wygod and Herman Sarkowsky, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, the 4-year-old daughter of Union Rags has three wins in 10 lifetime starts with earnings of $773,545.
Two of the wins came last year in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks and the Zenyatta in September. She finished third in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff here last November.
The Osunitas will give Paradise Woods a break from facing standout distaff runners like Unique Bella and Abel Tasman and will also be her first try on grass. The Osunitas is a 1 1/16-mile test on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course.
“She’s doing fine and we’re looking to see how she does on the grass, how she handles it,” Mandella said Wednesday morning.
A sufficient effort in the Osunitas could lead to a start in the Grade II $200,000 Yellow Ribbon, also at 1 1/16 miles on the turf, on Saturday, August 4.
The field from the rail: Paradise Woods (Flavien Prat, 7-2), Melissa Jane (Brice Blanc, 20-1), Amboseli (Victor Espinoza, 12-1), Pantsonfire (Kent Desormeaux, 9-2), Psyco Sister (William Antongeorgi III, 30-1), Lynne’s Legacy (Rafael Bejarano, 12-1), Compelled (Drayden Van Dyke,4-1), Fizzy Friday (Geovanni Franco, 8-1), Achira (Gary Stevens, 20-1), Evo Campo (Heriberto Figueroa, 20-1), Midnight Crossing (Corey Nakatani, 8-1) and Fahan Mura (Edwin Maldonado, 5-1). Also Eligible: Vexatious (Rafael Bejarano, 20-1) and Barleysugar (Tyler Baze, 10-1).
CLOSERS – Chris Merz, Stakes Coordinator at Del Mar for the past two years, is now the Racing Secretary for Pimlico and Laurel in Maryland. Ed Reese takes over the position here. Reese, 64, has been involved in the sport for 35 years and has held racing office positions at Los Alamitos and Santa Anita during that time. … Selected works from 134 officially timed Wednesday morning: Dr. Dorr (3f, :37.60), Dream Tree (3f, :35.00), Der Lu (5f, :59.20), Abel Tasman (6f, 1:12.0), American Anthem (6f, 1:12.40) and Roy H (6f, 1:14.60) … Tom Whayne, 93, was on hand for Opening Day, his 67th straight such appearance.