Multiple graded stakes winner Surf Cat, looking to surpass the million-dollar earnings mark, heads a field of 10 for Saturday's 67th edition of the San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
A victory in the Grade II, $300,000 race would not only send the son of Sir Cat well beyond $1 million in purse money but would guarantee him a spot in the new Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile as a part of the "Win and You're In" series.
Eastern invader Rebellion, trained by H. Graham Motion, is looking for his third straight graded win. The 5-year-old British-bred son of Mozart arrived Tuesday afternoon for his West Coast debut, which will put Rebellion on his eighth different track since coming to the United States from his native land in 2006. In that stretch, the horse has been worse than second only twice. He has five victories along the way. He gets the saddle services of Rafael Bejarano.
Rounding out the field are Argentine-breds Global Hunter and Magnum, ridden by Mike Smith and Martin Pedroza, respectively; Mostocolli Mort, Tyler Baze; British-bred Mr. Napper Tandy, Joe Talamo; Tall Texan, Victor Espinoza; You Got Me Rocking, Joel Rosario, and Racketeer, Corey Nakatani.
PAGEANTRY OF OPENING DAY AWAITS SOME NEWCOMERS
Opening day at Del Mar may be old hat for most of the contestants in today's nine races, but at least a couple who figure to be prominent throughout the meet can be excused if they get a bit jittery as the ever-enthusiastic crowd welcomes them to action.
Jockeys Rafael Bejarano and Joel Rosario, the one-two finishers in the Hollywood Park jockey standings will be making their first forays into opening day here. Off their big Hollywood meetings, the pair could very well contend for the championship at the seashore.
A winning season for Bejarano, who outdistanced Rosario at the Inglewood oval 56 wins to 45 and posted purse earnings of 3.1 million, would give him a sweep of the Southern California circuit this year. He started the year -- his first full time in California -- by winning the Santa Anita title, 67-63, over 2007 champion rider Garrett Gomez, with Rosario fourth with 49 victories.
Bejarano will get an early taste of the action with a mount in the opener at 2 p.m., while Rosario will have to wait until the third race for his debut.
Bejarano, a native of Peru, said of his days so far in Southern California, "I feel really happy. All the trainers have given me good opportunities. Hopefully, it will be the same here."
He gives Hall of Fame trainer Robert Frankel credit for encouraging him to leave the Midwest for the Far West. "He pushed me to come here and he gives me good horses to ride," Bejarano said.
The Peruvian, third in money won nationally at present, doesn't figure to get a free pass to the title at Del Mar, which historically has had a highly competitive group over the 43 days of racing. Rejoining the group this summer after two years in the East, is Gomez, who has been the leading money winner for the past two years and as Del Mar opens is at the top with $11.1 million, and returning are defending champion Michael Baze and former champions Victor Espinoza, Corey Nakatani, Alex Solis and David Flores.
As for the trainer ranks, defending titlist Doug O'Neill will be pushing for his fourth in five years, but will probably be under pressure from Hollywood Park winner John Sadler.
As usual, the opening-day card is highlighted by two $75,000 divisions of the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course. The Oceanside can be a launching pad for the rest of the 3-year-old turf series that ends with the Grade II, $400,000 Del Mar Derby Sunday, August 31.
The first division will be run as the sixth race and the second as the eighth. Sky Cape, expected to be one of the favorites in the first division, was scratched this morning by trainer Kristin Mulhall. "He developed some mucous this morning," a disappointed Mulhall said. That dropped the field to nine runners. Ten will run in the second division.
RANDY WINICK BACK IN HARNESS AS A DEL MAR STEWARD
They say home is where the heart is, and that's exactly where Randy Winick is these days.
After years as a successful Thoroughbred trainer and a two-year hiatus from his profession, Winick has returned to the racetrack as an official, taking a spot in the Del Mar stewards' stand. This marks his first tour of duty as a steward at the seashore, but Del Mar is anything but new territory.
While training, Winick, who came to the West Coast in 1976, posted seven stakes victories at Del Mar, twice sending out the winner of the Del Mar Oaks -- Country Queen in 1978 and Suivi in 1992. Country Queen came back in 1979 to capture the Ramona Handicap (now the John C. Mabee).
His first two stakes scores came with Vic's Magic in 1978 with the Cabrillo Handicap and the San Diego Handicap. Rounding out the stakes action were Dontstop Themusic's Chula Vista Handicap in 1985 and La Spia's Debutante Stakes in 1991.
Born to racing as the son of longtime trainer Arnold Winick, the son got his start working under his father and being exposed to a variety of successful Florida and Illinois horsemen. Along with his Del Mar winners, perhaps his best runner was champion 2-year-old Brocco, who finished fourth in the 1994 Kentucky Derby and was a top prospect for the Belmont Stakes before being withdrawn with a foot abscess.
Winick's training days came to an end following the death of Dana Broccoli, the widow of Albert Broccoli, producer of several James Bond films. Winick had been the Broccolis' private trainer for several years.
The former trainer became a steward in 2007, working at Los Alamitos, Bay Meadows and the fair meets at Stockton, Vallejo and Pleasanton. "This is still a learning process for me," Winick said, "but I'm very happy because it gets me re-connected to racing. Racing has been my whole life."
HENDRICKS' HOPES HIGH AS DEL MAR GETS UNDER WAY
An almost jaunty Dan Hendricks talked confidently about a trio of horses in his barn and made a glancing reference to his 2006 Kentucky Derby prospect Brother Derek while preparing his steeds for upcoming action at Del Mar.
Heading the barn roster is multiple graded stakes winner Daytona, whose most recent win came in Hollywood Park's Shoemaker Mile. He'll be coming back in the Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course. Last year, Hendricks saddled his old warrior, Runaway Dancer, to finish second to the brilliant After Market in the handicap.
Hendricks is showing a lot of enthusiasm for a filly he calls his "new star," Ginger Pop, who has posted a record of two wins and two seconds in five lifetime starts. In her most recent start, she was a good second to Starry Pursuit in Hollywood's Flawlessly Stakes.
"She'll be running in the 3-year-old filly series, starting with the [Grade II] San Clemente (Saturday, July 26) and then the [Grade I Del Mar] Oaks (Saturday, August 16).
"I've got some nice 2-year-olds, too, including a half-sister to Brother Derek and Don'tsellmeshort," he said. Then came the cryptic comment: "I'll have something to say about Brother Derek maybe next week."
GAVIN ROSSDALE INITIATES FOUR O'CLOCK FRIDAY SERIES
The first of seven Four O'Clock Friday matinee racing programs gets under way this week.
Post time for the first race is 4 p.m., with a concert by Gavin Rossdale, the erstwhile lead singer for Bush and now singing solo, set to begin about 8, shortly after the final race of the day. Start time will start be at 4 for three more times before moving to 3:30 when dusk comes earlier.
The future concerts will feature Super Diamond (July 25), Pinback (August 1), Bravery (August 8), The Wailers (August 15), Black Francis (August 22) and Steel Pulse (August 29).
SHORE LINES -- Jockey Garrett Gomez will be out of town on Saturday to ride Gio Ponti for trainer Christophe Clement in the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs. He'll be back Sunday to ride Spring House in the Eddie Read and Spring Awakening in the Fleet Treat … Jockey Richard Migliore has decided to return to his New York roots after about 1 1/2 years racing in Southern California. Of his plan to ride the Saratoga meet, Migliore said, "I'd like to be able to stay here, but this is probably best for me right now. I expect to come back now and then to ride in stakes." His biggest win in the West came last year when he captured Del Mar's Grade I, $1-million Pacific Classic aboard Student Council … The Del Mar clockers were a busy lot this morning, posting times for 167 horses. Trainer Bruce Headley sent out a trio of stakes runners, with Surf Cat clicking off a half-mile in 47.60, Street Boss going the same distance in 48.20, and Magnifience being clocked at 1:00.80 for five furlongs. Two of John Sadler's charges hung up bullet works: Draft Choice, 45.60 for 4 furlongs, and Six Pack Abs, 58.60 for 5 furlongs, tying Mel Stute's Hurry Up Austin. Bob Baffert sent out Del Conte to post the top time for 6 furlongs at 1:11.20 from the gate, while Malibu Stakes winner Johnny Eves was clocked in 1:13 flat at the distance for Jay Robbins.