Heather Craig, assistant to trainer H. Graham Motion, has been dispatched on her first trip to Del Mar to supervise preparations for Howe Great, named for hockey great Gordie Howe.
She’ll be saddling the 7-2 morning line favorite for Sunday’s $300,000 Grade II Del Mar Derby against nine rivals in the 1 1/8 mile event over the Jimmy Durante Turf Course that climaxes the stakes series for 3-year-olds of the summer meeting. The 9-2 second choice in the morning line: Old Time Hockey, a colt named for a repeating phrase in the hockey movie “Slapshot .”
On the other side, there’s Tom Proctor, trainer of Old Time Hockey for the Glen Hill Farm of Chicagoan Leonard Lavin.
“I’m a Tampa Bay Lightning fan,” Proctor said. “But I like the (Chicago) Blackhawks, everybody likes the Blackhawks, they’ve got the good emblem.”
“Slapshot,” released in 1977 and starring Paul Newman and a supporting cast that included three real hockey players/characters as the Hanson Brothers, is a sports film classic in the eyes of millions. Lavin’s grandson, Craig Bernick, who took control of Ocala, Fla.-based Glen Hill Farm in 2008 and is now its president and CEO, chose Old Time Hockey for the name of a son of Smarty Jones from a mating with Glen Hill mare Grat. Which was fine with Proctor.
“The Hanson brothers were much better than Gordie Howe, in my eyes,” Proctor said. “He played for the Red Wings.”
Proctor will be seeking his third stakes victory of the meeting and back-to-back Del Mar Derby victories. He saddled Banned to win in 2011 for Glen Hill Farm.
“Last year when I ran Banned in there I thought I could get a bad trip and still win, and did,” Proctor said. “That’s not going to be the case this year. I better have a good trip.”
Howe Great was the clever name choice by Team Valor International for a son of Hat Trick. Howe Great has put the biscuit in the basket (hockey term for a goal) five times in nine starts and compiled earnings of $322,153. Four of the wins, plus a second and third-place finish have come on grass.
Which in part explains the decision to send him west of Kentucky for the first time in his career.
“The stable looks pretty far in advance for races, so I think this race has been under consideration for awhile,” Craig said. “He did well enough at Churchill Downs (third in the Grade II American Turf on May 4). He was second to Summer Front (June 16 Hill Prince at Belmont Park).
“They were thinking about taking him to Saratoga, which would have meant taking on Summer Front again, but opted to go to Monmouth for the Jersey Derby ($60,000, 1 1/16 miles on turf), which worked out when he won.
“So it was to wait for something at Belmont (a meeting which starts September 8) or come here and the decision was to come here.”
Howe Great trains on a Tapeta synthetic surface at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, but was fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack in April and came up short of graded stakes earnings for the Kentucky Derby. Earlier in the year, he won the Kittens Joy and Grade III Palm Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park on turf, defeating Pacific Classic winner Dullahan.
“He’s kind of rambunctious and lively, but a nice horse, no real quirks,”said Craig, who has been aboard Howe Great for a series of long gallops since their arrival earlier this week.
Team Valor and Motion shipped Summer Soiree to Del Mar to win last year’s Del Mar Oaks.
Craig has worked for Motion for the past five years and her assignment has evolved around managing a string of horses at Saratoga, her hometown track. She grew up around racing there and her mother was a groom and exercise rider for Willard C. (Mike) Freeman, trainer of Hall of Fame filly Shuvee, who swept the filly Triple Tiara series in 1969 and defeated males in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1970 and ’71.
Craig rode show horses at a young age and was galloping thoroughbreds at 15. She went to college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) , studying biology and pre-med, but returned to the track soon after graduation.
MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY
There’s money to be made at Del Mar, lots of it, for horsemen over the three-day Labor Day Weekend.
Saturday’s 11-race card has purses totaling $853,000, Sunday’s 11 races offer $942,000 and Monday tops them both with $972,000. The main events on Saturday and Sunday are worth $300,000 each, the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and the Grade II Del Mar Derby. Monday is topped by the Grade II, $250,000 Yellow Ribbon Handicap and also includes the $150,000 I’m Smokin Stakes and the $100,000 Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf.
Calculator says: That’s a total of $2,767,000 in purses for three days, an average of $922,333 per day or $83,848 per for 33 races.
NUMBER OF RACES, FIELD SIZE BOTH INCREASE FOR 2012
“If someone would have told me before we started that we’d run more races than the previous year and field size would be up as well, I don’t think I’d have believed them.”
With four racing days remaining, and the card for Closing Day on Wednesday in the books, Del Mar Thoroughbred Racing Secretary Tom Robbins is now a believer.
“It has exceeded expectations,” Robbins said Saturday morning. “I was thrilled to be able to add more races (all three days of the Labor Day weekend) and provide more opportunities for owners and trainers at these higher purse levels.
“We added maiden special weight races, not lower level claimers, because we had a call for them. There’s usually an uptick towards the end of the meeting, but in all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
With 11-race cards on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and a 10-race program on Wednesday there will be a total of 328 races in 2012. There were 324 in 2011, including the “Battle of the Exes” match race.
Average size per field in 2011 was 8.4 horses. The 2012 figure will be affected by scratches in days to come, but looks to come in at 8.5 or 8.6.
“That may not sound like much of an increase, but we’re glad to have it,” Robbins said.
TWELVE ENTERED FOR FUTURITY
A dozen 2-year-olds were entered Saturday morning for the $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Futurity, traditional Closing Day feature on Wednesday, September 5.
Among those figuring as major contenders are Know More, trained by Leandro Mora, the John Sadler-trained duo of Scherer Magic and Capo Bastone and Bob Baffert-trained Rolling Fog.
Trainer Patrick Biancone entered the filly Switch to the Lead, third behind Executiveprivilege in the Sorrento Stakes, to take on the boys in the Futurity.
A HAPPY 100TH FOR BAFFERT
Fed Biz provided Hall of Famer trainer Bob Baffert with his 100th stakes victory at Del Mar in Friday evening’s El Cajon Stakes for 3-year-olds. A meaningful milestone
“Del Mar has always been special for me,” Baffert said in the winner’s circle after the race. “I claimed my first horse here. It all started at Del Mar with Mike Pegram. I’ve had a lot of good horses through the years here and I’ve been really fortunate to have all those good horses.”
His first stakes victory at Del Mar came with Theresa’s Pleasure in the 1990 CTBA Stakes. Along the way to 100 came the astonishing seven straight in the Del Mar Futurity from 1996 (Silver Charm) to 2002 (Icecoldbeeratreds), plus three Pacific Classics, six Del Mar Debutantes, two Bing Crosbys and five Pat O’Briens.
Baffert is the all-time leader in number of stakes victories at Del Mar, ahead of five fellow Hall of Famers, Ron McAnally (75), who is still active; the late Charlie Whittingham (74), the late Bobby Frankel (70), and Richard Mandella (49) and D. Wayne Lukas (48), both still active.
Baffert began the current meeting with 93 stakes triumphs.
Fed Biz’s comeback victory from a more than six month layoff, in a tough stretch fight with Jimmy Creed, was gratifying. And Baffert got emotional when speaking about another of his 3-year-olds, Haskell Invitational Handicap winner Paynter, who is battling a serious bout of colitis at a New York veterinary center.
“He’s hanging in there,” Baffert said. “I’ll tell you, I’ve never had a horse that had such a will to live. Unbelievable.”
Ahmed Zayat, owner of Paynter, posted on his Twitter account late Friday night that Paynter was showing improvement and there was reason for optimism about a recovery. No further report is expected until at least Saturday evening.
JOCKEY NEWS, UPDATES
Joe Talamo’s victory on Fed Biz in Friday’s El Cajon Stakes was the 22-year-old Louisiana native’s fifth in the last eight stakes races at Del Mar. The previous four for Talamo: Solana Beach (Halo Dolly), CTT & TOC Handicap (Let’s Go Cheyenne), Del Mar Handicap (Casino Host), Del Mar Mile (Obviously).
With two wins on Friday, Talamo raised his meeting total to 37, which is 10 behind leader Rafael Bejarano and two ahead of Garrett Gomez with four racing days, and 43 races, remaining.
Mario Gutierrez, who guided I’ll Have Another to victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, will be at Del Mar on Sunday. He has two scheduled mounts on Paul Reddam-owned horses, Hume for trainer Simon Callaghan in the sixth race and Miss Mittagong for trainer Ben Cecil in the seventh, the Adoration Stakes.
TRAINER NEWS, UPDATES
In addition to providing Bob Baffert with stakes victory No. 100 at Del Mar, Fed Biz gave the trainer his 18th win of the summer, moving him into a three-way tie atop the standings with Doug O’Neill and Peter Miller with four days remaining of the 37-day session.
Baffert has eight horses to saddle over the three-day Labor Day weekend, five Saturday, three Sunday and none on Monday. Miller has five horses entered each of the three days. An interesting confrontation comes in Saturday’s featured Grade I Del Mar Debutante, where Baffert has 4-5 morning line favorite Executiveprivilege and Miller will be represented by Heir Kitty and Miss Empire.
CLOSERS – Green Secret (1st race, Jim Cassidy trainer is the lone Ship And Win bonus eligible horses on the Saturday card …Who but owner Mike Pegram would think to play off the title of the world best-selling erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey and name a horse Fiftyshadesofhay? Fiftyshadesofhay, a 2-year-old daughter of Pulpit-Quiet Kim trained by Bob Baffert, makes her racing debut in Saturday’s second race.
Trakus Facts of the Day for Friday, August 31
Fed Biz narrowly got the better of Jimmy Creed after a race-long battle in the El Cajon Stakes, but Unusual Heatwave lost a significant amount of ground when finishing third. Beaten just 1.5 lengths, third place finisher Unusual Heatwave covered 47 feet more than Fed Biz, while second home Jimmy Creed traveled 24 feet more, and was beaten just a neck. Forty-seven feet equates to approximately 5.5 lengths of added ground coverage. The Trakus-Adjusted Margin for the performance suggests Unusual Heatwave was four lengths better than Fed Biz given the difference in trip.
In Friday’s second race, Annalili stormed home, recording a final quarter in 24.61 seconds, which was 0.87 seconds faster than the next-fastest in the field, winner Janie Girl.