Del Mar, California
There is something going around the barns where the turf meets the surf. And it is not sandy white or a pretty shade of blue.
Fill in your own palate color here, because it may be too graphic if this is being read on either side of a meal.
A fever-causing, mucus-inducing virus is coursing through the Del Mar stables, and it has taken aim on two of the best 3-year-olds in the country in a way that may confound bettors on races both sooner and later this year.
Omaha Beach became the latest, high-profile victim. The favorite that was scratched three days before the Kentucky Derby with throat trouble is out of consideration for a comeback here next weekend – either Saturday’s $200,000 Grade 2 Pat O’Brien sprint or Sunday’s $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes.
“It’s not the end of the word, but it’s a setback,” Omaha Beach’s trainer Richard Mandella told VSiN at his barn Saturday morning. “I just had the veterinarian looking at him. He’s in the early stages of the virus that’s going around. A couple of my other horses have already had it.”
The news came only two days after Bob Baffert was forced to call off Game Winner’s planned trip to Saratoga for next Saturday’s $1.25 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes. Last year’s Eclipse Award-winning juvenile champion owned by Gary and Mary West was also diagnosed with a virus, and Baffert said that plans for his next race are on hold until he recovers.
Mandella was not as hesitant about what he hopes to do with Omaha Beach.
“We’re hoping we can get him into a race like the Awesome Again next month,” he said. “But we might also look at one of the other races at around the same time.”
The $300,000 Grade 1 Awesome Again on Sept. 28 at Santa Anita has become a perfect prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which this year will be run over the same main track Nov. 2. But in the case of Omaha Beach, it could be a Hail Mary, especially since he will have gone more than five months since his last race – a victory in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Surgery to repair an entrapped epiglottis took him out of training, but he has had weekly Del Mar workouts for the past month, firing two bullets.
The latest development did not dent the Breeders’ Cup Classic futures either off shore or overseas right away. Bovada kept Omaha Beach at 12-1, and US Racing held him at 14-1. He actually shortened early Saturday to 12-1 in Europe, according to Oddschecker, but by the time the news broke of his illness, overseas books had put those markets to bed for the night.
The spreading virus also forced Mandella to scratch multiple allowance winner United from Saturday’s Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap. It also put Bombard in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s Grade 2 Del Mar Mile.
Whether it is the same virus or not, a bug had also caught up with disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security – also owned by the Wests. He was taken out of the running Thursday for the Travers, which will not have any of the classic winners for the second year in a row.
Higher Power cruises to win Pacific Classic
Always in touch with a middling early pace, Higher Power (9-1) took the lead at the quarter pole and ran on to a 5¼-length victory in the $1 million Grade 1 Pacific Classic.
It was the second year in a row that trainer John Sadler and owners Kosta and Pete Hronis won the biggest race of the Del Mar summer. They will try to follow Accelerate’s footsteps again this fall when they send Higher Power to the Breeders’ Cup Classic with a stop in between at the Awesome Again at Santa Anita.
Higher Power made his return to dirt after finishing second here last month in the Wickerr Stakes, a turf mile. Sadler then decided to work the 4-year-old colt by Medaglia d’Oro twice on the main track, most recently seeing a 1:13.40 turn last Saturday over six furlongs. That convinced Sadler to take a shot at a 10-furlong distance that he was not always sure would be to Higher Power’s liking.
“We set him up last week,” Sadler said. “We had a rabbit out there. (Jockey Flavien) Prat rode him, and he worked beautifully. He had two super works after his race in the Wickerr. So I said this was a good race to take a chance in.”
Higher Power’s winning time on the fast track was 2:04.43. Draft Pick (13-1) finished second, holding off a strong charge from third-place finisher Mongolian Groom (18-1).
The Pacific Classic was an exception to the gate-to-wire pattern that persisted most of Saturday. Another came a race earlier, when Chad Brown trainee Cambier Parc (6-5) made a late run down the middle of the track to win the $300,000 Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, a 1⅛-mile turf race for 3-year-old fillies.
Dunbar Road scores for Chad at the Spa
Overcoming the sloppy, sealed track and an 11-minute thunderstorm delay, Dunbar Road looked like a speedboat breaking free of wake limits to blow past the dinghies floating in the stretch between him and the finish line at Saratoga.
With meet leaders Brown training and José Ortiz riding, Dunbar Road (8-5) ran her record to 4-for-5, taking the lead with 300 yards to go on the way to a 2¾-length win in the $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, a 1¼-mile race for 3-year-old fillies.
“It wasn’t how I would have drawn it up,” Brown said. “We got shuffled back early, and I really wasn’t certain down the backside with how far back she was (3½ lengths) that we would win from there. She was just so much the best today. She was able to overcome everything.”
Sired by Quality Road out of a Bernardini mare, Dunbar Road had to take a wide trip in the final turn as did runner-up Point Of Honor (2-1). Street Band (7-1) finished third. The winning time was 2:04.07.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. It appears more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and New York Racing Association handicapping analyst Andy Serling are next week’s guests. The RFRP is also available via Apple, Google and Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.