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.”

369 horses nominated to compete in Triple Crown series

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A total of 369 3-year-olds were made eligible to compete in this year’s Triple Crown series during the early nomination period.

Each of the horses was nominated through a $600 payment to compete in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont stakes. The Triple Crown opens May 6 with the Derby.

The number of nominated horses increased by 57 from last year’s total of 312. They include a record 37 horses based in Japan.

Among the notable horses is Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion trained by Todd Pletcher.

Also among the predominantly male horses nominated was a filly named Hoosier Philly.

Brad Cox led all trainers with 38 horses nominated to the series. Pletcher was second with 36 horses, followed by Steve Asmussen and Ken McPeek with 13 each. Chad Brown and Hideyuki Mori had 12 each.

Others nominated include Arabian Knight, Cave Rock and Newgate, all trained by Bob Baffert. He is currently banned by Churchill Downs Inc. through this year’s Derby, although Baffert is challenging his two-year punishment in federal court.

For the Derby, horses under the care of any suspended trainer may be transferred to another trainer and become eligible to earn Derby qualifying points as long as the transfer is done by Feb. 28.

Last year, Baffert transferred two horses to another trainer and both ran in the Derby, although neither was highly placed.

Horses that were not nominated to the Triple Crown series by the early deadline of Jan. 28 can make a late payment of $6,000 through March 27 to become eligible.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.