Turf meets surf: Del Mar gives Breeders’ Cup a new look

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DEL MAR, Calif. (AP) “The Turf Meets the Surf” at Del Mar this weekend, the crowning moment for the track founded by Bing Crosby, Pat O’Brien and their Hollywood pals in 1937.

Nestled in a seaside resort north of San Diego, Del Mar will be hosting its first Breeders’ Cup. The $28 million, 13-race season-ending championships start with four races Friday followed by nine more on Saturday, culminating with the $6 million Classic.

Crosby wrote and recorded the ditty “Where the Turf meets the Surf”, the track’s signature theme, still played before and after each racing program.

Del Mar was the West Coast answer to Saratoga, a getaway for racing fans to trade the big-city summer heat for the cooling ocean breezes.

The track made a first big splash in 1938 when Seabiscuit, a national hero in the depths of the Great Depression, beat Ligaroti by a nose in a match race.

The track is home to several prestigious races, including the $1 million Pacific Classic. But the Breeders’ Cup will elevate Del Mar to another level as an international showcase for racing’s biggest stars.

“We’ve had many wonderful racing events and thousands of special racing people be part of our rich history,” Del Mar President Joe Harper said. “But bringing the Breeders’ Cup horses, horsemen and their worldwide fans to our seaside showplace just might be our show of shows.”

It took a lot of work, and a major investment, to finally land the Breeders’ Cup.

Southern California is frequent stop for the Breeders’ Cup. Until now, the venues have always been in the Los Angeles area.

Hollywood Park was the site of the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984. That track played host twice more before it closed in 2013. Santa Anita has had the Breeders’ Cup a record nine times.

Del Mar was never under consideration until it widened the turf course. The $5 million project, completed in time for the 2014 summer season, now meets the Breeders’ Cup requirement to accommodate 14 horses in grass races.

“We were basically a nonstarter until we got the turf course widened,” said Craig Dado, vice president and chief marketing officer. “Before that, we could only run 10 on the turf. Widening the course not only made us eligible for a Breeders’ Cup, but also allow us more runners in turf races in general.”

That was the clincher. Del Mar had everything else going for it: history, good weather in early November and an excellent reputation.

“Del Mar is the place where a trainer goes when he dies and goes to heaven,” said trainer Mark Casse, a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner.

The track will be spruced up for the weekend with temporary “chalets” to expand dining options and the facility decked out to accommodate a full house.

Attendance will be capped at 38,000 for both Friday and Saturday. Only a few tickets remain for Friday, according to Dado. Saturday is sold out.

Roughly 75 percent of the tickets were purchased by fans from outside Southern California. Visitors will find a different kind of Breeders’ Cup.

“The element we’re adding here is the beach,” Dado said. “The whole beach lifestyle, the beach culture that you see throughout Del Mar and the surrounding cities. You’ll see that in all the events leading up to the weekend.”

Not surprising, for the track “Where the Turf meets the Surf.”

Tiger Roll wins Grand National in photo finish

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AINTREE, England — Tiger Roll won the Grand National Steeplechase in a photo finish over Pleasant Company as Irish horses dominated the world’s most famous steeplechase at Aintree on Saturday.

A 4 1/2-mile (6,400-meter) race was won by a matter of inches in the closest finish to the Grand National since 2012, when Neptune Collonges won by a nose.

Tiger Roll, a 10-1 shot, was leading by as much as 10 lengths in the long run to the line, but only just held off the fast-finishing Pleasant Company (25-1) to win a first prize of 500,000 pounds ($710,000).

“I did have a big fear,” said jockey Davy Russell, who won the race for the first time at his 14th attempt. “It would have been heartbreaking.”

The first four horses home in the National were from Ireland, including Bless The Wings (40-1) and Anibale Fly (10-1).

It was the second National victory for both trainer Gordon Elliott, who also won with Silver Birch in 2007, and owner Michael O’Leary, who had 2016 winner Rule The World. O’Leary is chief executive of budget airline Ryanair.

“We bought the horse as a pint-sized hurdler,” O’Leary said, “but he’s got a heart of a lion.”

Russell grew up dreaming of winning the National. As a child, he erected Aintree-style fences in his garden and pretended to ride a horse over them.

“I’ve won this race thousands of times (in my head),” Russell said. “But not like this.”

David Mullins, the jockey of Pleasant Company, said he thought he was well-beaten after jumping the next-to-last fence.

“Davy was going so much better than me,” Mullins said.

That seemed to be the case as the horses made it past the elbow in the run to the line, but Pleasant Company closed in as Tiger Roll faded. It was too close to call as they crossed the line and the 171st edition of the race required a photo finish to separate them.

Total Recall went off as the 7-1 favorite but fell.

 

Baffert: McKinzie won’t run in Santa Anita Derby

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ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) McKinzie will miss the Santa Anita Derby on April 7 because of an unspecified problem.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed the colt won’t run in the West Coast’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby due to an issue in one of his hind legs. X-rays and scans haven’t confirmed what it is.

Baffert said Saturday in Dubai that McKinzie is “definitely out,” according to multiple media reports. He says he’s being “very cautious.”

The colt edged Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe Stakes on March 10, but was disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch.

McKinzie was 10th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 40 points for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. The colt won the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity on Dec. 9 and the Sham Stakes on Jan. 6.

Baffert was in the Middle East to saddle West Coast and Mubtaahij to second- and third-place finishes in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.