Opening Day at Del Mar

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman")

Although summer officially began on June 21st, for racing fans around the United States, summer doesn’t truly begin until racing returns to Del Mar and Saratoga, the two best race meets of the summer. So with that in mind, get ready for summer to begin later this afternoon, when Del Mar will play host to a terrific ten-race card that has drawn an incredible total of 123 entries!

With so many large, deep fields, there are bound to be many terrific longshots and handicapping gems to uncover. So without further ado, here are my thoughts on a few of the most interesting races on the opening-day card…

Race 3: Last year, the talented three-year-old filly My Happy Face had the good fortune to finish fourth or better in six graded stakes races, including the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I), Test Stakes (gr. I), Cotillion Stakes (gr. I), and La Brea Stakes (gr. I). However, she failed to win any of those six graded stakes races, with her only victory for the year coming in the ungraded Lotka Stakes at Belmont Park. Now four years old, My Happy Face is set to make her 2014 debut in this six-furlong main-track allowance optional claiming race. She’ll likely be a heavy favorite thanks to her stellar record, but she may be vulnerable in her first start off a layoff. Therefore, I’ll take a chance with Biorhythm, a talented turf sprinter that broke her maiden over the Keeneland Polytrack last spring. She demonstrated good form earlier this year, running well in a pair of stakes races on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita, and has recorded six solid workouts in preparation for this race. In addition, she will be ridden by the very talented apprentice jockey Drayden Van Dyke, which means that Biorhythm will get to carry five pounds less than My Happy Face.

Race 6: This five-furlong maiden special weight for California-bred juvenile has drawn a huge field of fourteen, although only ten will be allowed to start. Of the group, I believe that Pulmarack is the most likely winner. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Pulmarack is by Lucky Pulpit out of Tamarack Bay, making him a full-brother to the juvenile stakes-winner Luckarack, as well as a half-brother to the grade I-winning juvenile Tamarando. Keeping in mind his close relation to several early-maturing stakes winners, as well as Hollendorfer’s strong success with young horses, I believe Pulmarack will be ready to win first time out this afternoon.

Race 8: The one-mile, $100,000 Oceanside Stakes looks like a terrific handicapping challenge, with twelve horses plus an also-eligible entered to contest what should be a wide-open race. If you put the names of all the entries in a hat and randomly withdrew a single name, you’d probably have as good a chance as the best of handicappers at having selected the winner.

In wide-open turf races like this one, something I love to see in a potential win candidate is strong stretch acceleration—the ability to run a final quarter-mile in :23 seconds or less at the end of a two-turn race. Keeping this in mind, there are three horses in the Oceanside that I believe are capable of achieving this with some degree of consistency—Argyle’s Cut, most recently a fast-closing runner-up in the one-mile Singletary Stakes at Santa Anita; Patriot’s Rule, third by a neck in the one-mile Silky Sullivan Stakes at Santa Anita while running his final quarter in approximately :22 3/5; and Texas Ryano, who won a nine-furlong allowance race with a spectacular late run that included a final furlong in about :11 2/5. Of the trio, I prefer Patriot’s Rule slightly over Texas Ryano, but would definitely use both equally in multi-race wagers and on top of exactas. With the talented front-runners Yard Line and Home School likely to ensure a lively pace, I believe this race will set up well for a deep closer.

Who do you like on opening day at Del Mar?

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