Earliest race is the 2nd at Saratoga at 1:25 pm EDT.
It's Opening Day at Del Mar, and it's one of the great days in the world of horse racing. We will not wade into the hoariest of racetrack arguments -- which is better, Del Mar or Saratoga -- and instead we will say that we like having them both. We will be primarily playing the card from Del Mar, though -- we can't help it -- we will throw in a look at a race or two from Saratoga as well.
One of the great things about Del Mar is the reliability of the conditions: it will be fast and firm today, as it will be every day. We will handicap for that today, and we will do the same for Saratoga, though the forecast in upstate New York is more iffy. Let's go.
Del Mar Race 1 (5:00 pm EDT), Starter Allowance, 1 mile, dirt, 3 & up
Del Mar always starts off their summer meeting with a two-turn dirt race; it's a chance for the horses to run by the grandstand for the first time, and for the fans to cheer them in full throat. It's a great moment, and as a tribute to it, we will make a token play in this race, and we'll go back to something we learned during our formative handicapping years, which were spent in Southern California: when there are multiple speed horses in a race, take the speed of the speed. In this race, that is 2-Secret Courier, a stretch-out sprinter trained by Brian Koriner. We think he will get the lead in this speedy field, and he just may get brave and stay in front all the way. The bet: Del Mar, Race 1, $5 to win on 2-Secret Courier.
Del Mar Race 2 (5:30 pm EDT), Allowance, 1 1/8 miles, turf, 3 & up
This is a good race, a non-winners of two allowance at nine furlongs on the sod. 6-United is a deserving favorite, coming off a runner-up finish in the Grade 2, 10-furlong Whittingham Stakes at Santa Anita. We're going to take a shot against the chalk here, however, for one main reason: we don't understand why United is starting here, rather than in a stakes race. Trainers do not run horses through conditions the way they used to: In the past, a horse would win a maiden race, then a first-level allowance, then a second-level allowance, and so on, and it was only after a horse was able to beat a non-winners of three allowance field that the horse would graduate to stakes races. Nobody does that any longer: when trainers think horses are good enough for stakes races, they go, even if the horse has yet to win a non-winners of one allowance (some trainers even send horses to stakes before they win a maiden race; Bodexpress, who ran in this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, is a recent example). United is obviously good enough to compete in stakes races, so we are going to take his presence in this allowance race as a negative sign, and we will look elsewhere.
The pick is 5-Starting Bloc. This horse is a stone-cold deep closer, and these kinds of horses need the right setup to win: without a fast pace to run at, they have a hard time getting to the wire first. But we think there's enough speed in this one to set the table for him. He will be flying late. the only question is whether he will get there in time. We think he will, so we will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Del Mar, Race 2, $25 to win on 5-Starting Bloc.
Del Mar Race 8 (8:30 pm EDT), The $100,000 Runhappy Oceanside Stakes, 1 mile, turf, 3-year-olds
This is the traditional opening day stakes race at Del Mar, and the 2019 edition is a good one, with a full field of 12 entered. We like the favorite in here: 3-Jasikian, an Irish-bred trained by John Sadler, has a devastating late kick, and enough early speed to stay in the race, and that is always a dangerous combination on turf. Moreover, he's making his third start in North America, and as such should be primed for a top effort. We will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Del Mar, Race 8, $30 to win on 3-Jasikian.
Saratoga Race 2 (1:25 pm EDT), The Rick Violette Stakes, 6 furlongs, dirt, New York-bred 2-year-olds
It's good to see a stakes race named after the late Rick Violette, who was as dyed-in-the-wool a horseman as you'll ever see. There's a short field of five in this, and we think we've found lone speed: 2-Listentoyourheart should get an uncontested lead on Saratoga's golden rail, and we think that from there he wires this field. We will bet him to win at 8/5. The bet: Saratoga, Race 2, $25 to win on 2-Listentoyourheart.
Saratoga Race 7 (4:32 pm EDT), Maiden Special Weight, 1 mile, turf, 3 & up
If there's a turf race at Saratoga, there's probably a Chad Brown runner in the field, and that is the case here, as Brown sends out two first-time starters, 6-Good Governance and 9-Border Town. Good Governance, an English-bred colt, has a good turf pedigree and a steady if unspectacular series of morning workouts, but we prefer Border Town: he's shown quite a bit of zip in the mornings, and we expect him to show it today. We will bet Border Town to win. The bet: Saratoga, Race 7, $30 to win on 9-Border Town.
That's all for today. Good luck at the windows.
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