(Trainer Doug O’Neill / Benoit Photo & Courtesy of Del Mar Turf Club)

DOUG O’NEILL HAS HOT HAND COMING INTO FLEET TREAT STAKES

Trainer Doug O’Neill is off to a hot start at Del Mar this summer. The 55-year old conditioner rang-up five victories in Week One of the meet and leads defending champs Phil D’Amato and Bob Baffert, who both notched four victories last week.

“We have fresh horses coming in,” O’Neill says. “The conditions came in in the first book and I have an excellent team of hot walkers, grooms and exercise riders. So many things have to go right but the horses settled in, the staff settled in and the races are going our way. It goes in cycles but right now it’s a good cycle.”

O’Neill has a string of about 50 horses in his barn at Del Mar and he’s feeling good about the meet. He’s especially excited about his undefeated Cal-bred, Ceiling Crusher, who has won her last two races by a combined 32½ lengths. She took the $150,000 Evening Jewel by 15 ½ lengths and the $150,000 Melair by 17. The 3-year-old daughter of Mr. Big has drawn post #3 in today’s $175,000 Fleet Treat.

“We’re trying to keep her undefeated,” O’Neill says. “She’s doing really well and hopefully things will go her way.

“We got her privately after her first start. She came to us in great shape. Credit to the owners who bought her. They’ve been extremely patient. We’ve had great spacing between her races and she’s continued to be a brilliant racehorse.”

Even O’Neill admits he didn’t know how good Ceiling Crusher could be.

“You never know,” he says. “She’s got the look of being a really good horse and she has the connections. John Brocklebank and Louis Mendez are great horsemen. They’re the ones who bought her as a young horse and developed her into what she is. I knew she had a great foundation but we never dreamt she’d be as good as she’s becoming.”

O’Neill says he has some nice babies in the barn, too.

“We have a Cal-bred named Refocus who will hopefully be part of the stakes calendar here,” O’Neill says. “We have Wilson Q and we have a bunch of firsters coming.”

Wilson Q is a 2-year-old son of Constitution who ran second in the Bashford Manor at Ellis Park.

The star of the barn is Slow Down Andy, last year’s G2 Del Mar Derby winner. In addition to being named top 3-year-old at the 2022 summer meet at Del Mar, ‘Andy’ won the Sunland Derby and finished third in both the G1 Awesome Again at Santa Anita and in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland.

O’Neill gave the son of Nyquist some time off after the Breeders’ Cup and brought him back in the G1 Met Mile at Belmont Park in June where he finished sixth. Now he’s back on the West Coast and is entered to run this weekend.

“He’s doing well,” O’Neill says. “As long as he stays injury free we’re looking at the San Diego.”

The G2 San Diego Handicap is this Saturday at Del Mar. Horses who do well in the race typically go on to the G1 Fanduel Pacific Classic September 2.


TWILIGHT GLEAMING RETURNS TO DEFEND HER CROWN IN DAISYCUTTER

Breeders’ Cup winners are a rare breed. In some cases, the Breeders’ Cup victory is the culmination of a great career and they are retired soon after the race. Some continue to race but never win again. In the case of 2-year-old Breeders’ Cup winners it’s often their peak performance and they never live up to the promise that comes with such a victory.

But then there are those who continue racing after their Breeders’ Cup victory and go on to score multiple graded stakes wins and maybe even another Breeders’ Cup. Others never quite get back to the level reached on the first Friday and Saturday in November but continue to show the heart of a champion and race successfully for several more years.

Enter Twilight Gleaming, who won her Breeders’ Cup race, the Juvenile Turf Sprint, here at Del Mar in 2021, and will be back to race Friday in the $100,000 Daisycutter Handicap.

The English-bred daughter of National Defense won a pair of races the year following her Breeders’ Cup triumph, including the 2022 Daisycutter last summer. She added another victory in the Giants Causeway at Keeneland earlier this year.

“This year she looks bigger,” says Blake Heap, the assistant for trainer Wesley Ward and the one who is tending to Twilight Gleaming on the West Coast. “I showed her to some people who had seen her here last year and they said she looks bigger and stronger and really looks good. All dappled out, got good weight and very happy. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

The Daisycutter will be her first race since returning from Royal Ascot, a trip that did not turn out nearly as well as the connections had hoped. Twilight Gleaming ran 16th in the G1 Kings Stand.

“I don’t know what happened to her,” Heap says. “She just never really got into the race. She wasn’t eating good over there. Not like here, she’s eating great. She’s back to herself here.”

Not exactly what her competition wants to hear.

Twilight Gleaming drew the inside post for the Daisycutter, which is not quite the disadvantage on the turf as it has been on the dirt so far at the meet. Heap acknowledges it will all come down to the break.

“You need luck, not bad,” Heap says. “You know who wins is the horse that usually gets the good trip, especially when they’re all evenly matched. They’ll know she’s in there if we get lucky.”

Twilight Gleaming will have the services of Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith.

Competition is expected to come from Amy C, a Philip D’Amato trainee who is making just her third start this year. She won the G3 Las Cienegas at Santa Anita in January then got a five month break before running a close third in the G3 Intercontinental at Belmont Park in June. She’ll be ridden by Umberto Rispoli.

The Daisycutter is the seventh race on the eight race Friday afternoon card. Approximate post time is 7 p.m.

Here’s the field from the rail with jockeys and morning line odds: Twilight Gleaming (2-1); Tom’s Regret (scratched); Sassy Nature (Edwin Maldonado, 10-1); Unbridled Mary (Hector Berrios, 6-1); Amy C (5-2); Xmas Surprise (Joe Bravo, 12-1); Wide West (Juan Hernandez, 12-1); Tony Ann (Kent Desormeaux, 6-1); Princess Adaleigh (Ramon Vasquez, 8-1); AE – Secrets Told (Antonio Frescu, 15-1) and Kitty Kitana (Giovanni Franco, 6-1).


PAPAPRODROMOU PACKS A ONE-TWO PUNCH IN G1 BING CROSBY

The first Grade I race of the Del Mar summer meet is set to go this Saturday when 12 of the track’s fastest dirt runners compete in the G1 Bing Crosby, a “Win and You’re In” challenge race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Trainer George Papaprodromou will have a double-barrel attack when he sends out last year’s winner, American Theorem, and arguably the current leader of the West Coast sprint division in Spirit of Makena.

American Theorem looked to be a rising star in the sprint division when he won back-to-back graded stakes in 2022; the G2 Triple Bend in June and the Bing Crosby in July. A runner-up finish to Laurel River in the G2 Pat O’Brien one month later did nothing to tarnish his image.

Papaprodromou trained American Theorem up to the Breeders’ Cup and the son of American Pharoah ran a distant eighth. He was given the winter off and returned in June, on closing day at Santa Anita, and ran fifth and last in a second level allowance.

“He needed the race,” Papaprodromou says. “He was coming off of the layoff and he wasn’t ready. I think it will help him this time.”

Papaprodromou says American Theorem is doing very good coming into Saturday’s race as is his stablemate Spirit of Makena, who has been nothing short of brilliant so far this year. The son of Ghostzapper opened with a victory in an entry level allowance at Santa Anita in February. He followed that with a stylish win in the G3 San Carlos in March and then stamped himself a Breeders’ Cup contender with a win in the G2 Triple Bend.

As for running his star sprinters against each other, Papaprodromou has no problem.

“Hopefully, one of them wins,” he says. “May the best horse win. They both belong there.”

The Bing Crosby is the 10th of 11 races Saturday. Approximate post time is 6:30 p.m.

Here’s the field from the rail with the jockeys and morning line odds: Hoist the Gold (Brian Hernandez Jr., 20-1); Spirit of Makena (Joe Bravo, 4-1); Todo Fino (Edwin Maldonado, 20-1); The Chosen Vron (Hector Berrios, 4-1); Kid Corleone (Tiago Pereira, 20-1); Get Her Number (Mike Smith, 15-1); Anarchist (Ramon Vasquez, 4-1); C Z Rocket (Kent Desormeaux, 12-1); Sibelius (Mario Guttierrez, 6-1); American Theorem (Umberto Rispoli, 8-1); Dr. Schivel (Juan Hernandez, 7/2) and Peaceful Waters (Antonio Fresu, 15-1).


PACKED FIELDS HIGHLIGHT FIRST WEEK OF RACING AT DEL MAR

Week One of the Del Mar summer meet is in the books and the number that jumps out is the average field size of 10.19. There were 32 races run over the three days last week with 326 starters. Of that, 13 races were run on the turf where the average field size was 11.35. AFS on the dirt was 9.05.

The stakes races attracted an average of 12.20 horses per race, which is the standout number for Racing Secretary David Jerkens.

“I just think that’s encouraging to see stakes races with full fields,” Jerkens says. “That is not too common in this day and age. From a quality perspective, from a stakes perspective, definitely a great start.”

All of the numbers were on par with last year’s first week which is fine with Jerkens.

“Going into the meet I felt if we can match last year’s results I’ll be thrilled,” he says. “There’s a lot of factors. The three-day week and pent up demand not only for Del Mar but turf racing specifically.”

Umberto Rispoli had a riding triple on Saturday and clings to a slim lead in the jockey standings with five victories. Despite sitting out opening day on a one-day suspension, defending champion Juan Hernandez compiled four wins and is tied with Hector Berrios. Joe Bravo racked-up three victories last week and is followed by a half a dozen riders with two each.

The trainer standings are just as tight. Doug O’Neill leads the pack with five wins followed by defending co-champions Phil D’Amato and Bob Baffert with four each. Leonard Powell notched three victories and Bob Hess, Jr. had two.

Michael Bello or Bartlett and Reddam Racing lead all owners in wins with two.


COOLING OUT: Jockey Abel Cedillo is home now recuperating from a neck injury suffered in the fourth race at Del Mar Sunday afternoon. Cedillo was unseated from his mount Get the Gold shortly after the start of the race. His agent, Michael Ciani, says Cedillo will not require surgery and will be sidelined from 4-to-6 weeks…Trainer Bob Hess, Jr. says Order and Law came out of his victory in the G3 Cougar II in good order…Friday’s first post is pushed back two hours to four o’clock as Del Mar presents its first twilight card of the meet…As if tracking and timing over 100 horses in the morning workouts isn’t hard enough, Mother Nature tossed in a shroud of fog over the racetrack on Monday and Tuesday. Notable works this week, all on the dirt: Monday – Exaulted (4f, :48.40); Fort Bragg (4f, :50.40); Reincarnate (4f, :47.40); Tripoli (4f, :47.40); Faiza (5f, :59.60) and Justique (5f, 1:00.00); Wednesday – Offlee Naughty (5f, 1:00.80) and Hudson Ridge (6f, 1:12.20); Thursday –  Neige Blanche (4f, :49.40); Turf – Whatmakessammyrun (4F, :50.00) and Quattroelle (5f, 1:04.80).


Del Mar Statistics

Jockey Standings
(Current Through Friday, July 23, 2023 Inclusive)

Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% In-money% Money Won
Umberto Rispoli 22 5 5 4 23% 64% $402,900
Juan Hernandez 17 4 2 2 24% 47% $277,860
Hector Berrios 21 4 1 1 19% 29% $251,480
Joe Bravo 20 3 2 0 15% 25% $162,940
Mario Gutierrez 8 2 3 0 25% 63% $158,740
Antonio Fresu 15 2 2 3 13% 47% $155,380
Edwin Maldonado 18 2 2 2 11% 33% $168,880
Mike Smith 9 2 1 1 22% 44% $104,100
Kent Desormeaux 20 2 1 1 10% 20% $135,120
Abel Cedillo 15 2 0 2 13% 27% $77,220

 

Trainer Standings
(Current Through Friday, July 23, 2023 Inclusive)

Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% In-money% Money Won
Doug F. O’Neill 21 5 3 3 24% 52% $254,220
Philip D’Amato 23 4 2 3 17% 39% $267,200
Bob Baffert 11 4 2 1 36% 64% $242,620
Leonard Powell 7 3 0 0 43% 43% $231,040
Robert B. Hess, Jr. 11 2 1 0 18% 27% $113,300
George Papaprodromou 16 1 3 4 6% 50% $137,860
Andy Mathis 5 1 2 0 20% 60% $75,960
Antonio C. Garcia 7 1 2 0 14% 43% $85,240
Mark Glatt 13 1 1 3 8% 38% $105,620
John W. Sadler 10 1 1 1 10% 30% $84,020

 

Winning Favorites Report
(Current Through Friday, July 23, 2023 Inclusive)

Winning favorites — 9 out of 32 — 28.13%
Winning favorites on dirt — 5 out of 19 — 26.32%
Winning favorites on turf — 4 out of 13 — 30.77%
Winning odds-on favorites — 1 out of 3 — 33.33%
In-the-Money favorites — 20 out of 32 — 62.50%
In-the-Money odds-on favorites — 2 out of 3 — 66.67%