Del Mar hopes rain doesn’t wash out its big turf finish

For the second fall race meeting in a row, executives at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club are monitoring the weather forecast far more than they’d like.

“We can’t catch a break,” DMTC Racing Secretary David Jerkens lamented Friday.

With this week’s Thursday card completely canceled and three turf races pulled from Friday’s lineup, forcing numerous scratches, the weather looks decent for the weekend.

But the forecast again turns ominous for the middle of next week. The National Weather Service is predicting possible late showers on Tuesday, followed by the potential arrival of a “major winter storm” on Wednesday, with the “brunt” of heavy rain coming on Thanksgiving Thursday.

In the first five years of Del Mar’s fall meeting, going out for the Thanksgiving card, which begins at 11 a.m., became a tradition for some race fans, and Del Mar’s sky boxes bustled with activity.

The concern for those who stage and bet the races are the condition of the courses — particularly the turf, which is scheduled to host seven graded stakes races over the final four days. Those include two Grade I runs — the Hollywood Derby on Saturday, Nov. 30, and the Matriarch Stakes on Sunday, Dec. 1.

Last year, it rained on the night before Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t enough to force Del Mar to take races off the turf. (There were races pulled from the grass the following week.)

“You try to keep the graded stakes on the grass,” Jerkens said. “They do that in New York and Kentucky. There have been days when they run the Kentucky Derby in the mud, and you see them still running on the grass.

“What there is no doubt about is that we won’t put safety in jeopardy. If it’s safe to run on turf, we will. If it’s not, we won’t.”

Jerkens said that while the weather forecast is being watched closely, DMTC will take normal entries on Saturday for Thursday’s races. He said he’s disappointed by the forecast because the nominations are strong for all of the stakes races, with a good number of trainers from the East shipping in with the hope that Del Mar’s turf is dry and fast.

All but two of the final seven stakes have at least 20 nominations.

The nation’s top trainer, Chad Brown, whose horses won the Hollywood Derby and Matriarch last year, has nominated six horses in four different stakes at Del Mar, including Digital Age, Valid Point and Standard Deviation in the Hollywood and Significant Form in the Matriarch.

Jerkens said Brown’s string is scheduled to fly here Monday.

Roadster’s return

Given the quality of his competition, Roadster could hardly be considered a disappointment for trainer Bob Baffert. But the 3-year-old son of Quality Road still has a lot to prove.

Pulled from the Triple Crown trail after a poor showing in the Kentucky Derby, Roadster is the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday’s Grade III $100,000 Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar.

It was here that Roadster, owned by Speedway Stable, broke his maiden in his July 2018 debut. Since then, the results against top-level competition have been mixed.

The gray colt finished third to stablemate Game Winner in the 2018 Del Mar Futurity, and then seven months later beat Game Winner in the Santa Anita Derby.

After being moved up via disqualification to 15th in the Kentucky Derby, he was second to Mucho Gusto in the Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita and bested by a nose by Flagstaff in the Damascus Stakes on Nov. 2 in Arcadia.

With Drayden Van Dyke riding, this will be Roadster’s second straight test against older horses. In the six-horse field, the only other 3-year-old is trainer Richard Mandella’s Extra Hope. John Shirreffs’ 4-year-old gelding, Midcourt, has won three straight races, including the Comma to the Top Stakes at Santa Anita in his last outing Oct 27.

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