As Trevor Denman said as the gates opened for the second race on Opening Day, the “Polytrack era” is underway at Del Mar. In front of 42,842 over-the-top fans (second largest in track history and largest opening day crowd ever), we got our first look at the future as 3-year-old maiden filly SPECIAL SMOKE got home in a very slow 1:13.95. The track seemed to play fair to front-runners and closers but the final times were nearly three seconds slower than on Del Mar’s old “dirt” track. Times remained similarly slow on Thursday, when four route races produced times three seconds slower than normal and seemed to strongly favor late-runners. First-race winner ZEE TOPPER and longshot FREEDOM CLASS both rallied from last.

Early Impressions of Polytrack: There is much more kickback than I expected, particularly in the sprint races where the faster pace produces more flying “stuff”. A number of horses who raced behind the leaders appeared uncomfortable and threw their heads in the air as the synthetic material flew back at them. The slow times, if the track remains the same, will definitely take getting used to. Can you image the fastest sprinters on the circuit running the Bing Crosby in around 1:11 flat? And in two-turn races, closers seem to have a big edge, at least right now. I will continue to tread lightly, watch and monitor as the meet progresses.

On Wednesday, the meet kicked off with the first of three divisions of the Oceanside Stakes as European import TEN A PENNY won from off the pace in 1:35.2. KNOCKOUT ARTIST outdueled MEDICI CODE to win the 4th race in the same time, and VAQUELIN got a great ride from Victor Espinoza to take the final division in 1:36.3 while bucking a much slower early pace. All three winners looked good and figure to move on in Del Mar’s 3-year-old turf program. Trainer Peter Miller got off to a fast start with two wins, while Espinoza and Corey Nakatani both bagged three riding winners. Nakatani used a similar strategy in both of his main track victories, busting the race open at the top of stretch and daring the competition to catch him. They couldn’t either time.

On Thursday, two more wins for Miller and a pair for Bobby Frankel. Doug O’Neill got his first win since Lava Man (June 30) when dropper SWISS BLEND became the first (and only) horse to go wire-to-wire over Polytrack. The turf races have been dominated by closers so far, although INDIAN ASHTON ran well on the lead before getting nipped at the wire in a 5-furlong dash.

There was one winning ticket in the Pick Six and the $16 ticket immediately raised the red flag for those of us who remember how the “winning” Fix Six ticket was structured at the 2002 Breeders’ Cup. In this case, “singling” the winners of the first four races (including $133 bomber FREEDOM CLASS and $31.60 winner BALLISTIC HEAT), then using four horses in the 7th race and two in the finale. After a somewhat animated dinner conversation with an employee of the tote room, who assured me of the safeguards and race-by-race monitoring that make it virtually impossible for a ticket to be “put together” and entered after the Pick Six has started, and a phone call from a friend of the night manager at Viejas, conspiracy theorists probably can relax. The scoop I have is that the ticket reportedly was purchased by a 72-year-old regular of the Viejas racebook, who cashed out his paper ticket (not purchased online, offshore or over the phone) and walked out of the joint with about $92,000 after taxes.

One conspiracy theory down, one to go. Now, when are we going to stop seeing the last-click odds drop on winning horses who pop the gate and open up three lengths (aka ROAR IN SOLANO in last Friday night’s 6th race from Hollywood Park) turning for home? I’d like to once see that kind of drop on a horse who gets left at the start.

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One Response to “Polytrack Era”

  1. dgstan on July 20th, 2007 6:30 pm

    Thanks for clearing up the P6 conspiracy theory.

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