Trainers head west for Del Mar’s final weekend

Invaders from the east will make up more than half the fields this weekend in the two Grade I turf stakes that will help close Del Mar’s ninth fall meeting.

Five of the 11 entries in today’s Hollywood Derby, led by morning-line favorite Wit, have flown in for the 11/8-mile test for 3-year-olds.

The Chad Brown-trained Regal Glory is the 8-5 early favorite in Sunday’s Matriarch Stakes, which has drawn six eastern entries among the 10 starters for the one-mile test for older fillies and mares. Regal Glory is the defending champion of the Matriarch and will be attempting to give Brown a third straight Matriarch win and a fifth in the last six years.

Each of the Grade I stakes carries a $400,000 purse. They are two of the five stakes on the final weekend of Del Mar’s annual Turf Festival.

Today’s program includes the Grade III Jimmy Durante Stakes at a mile on the turf for 2-year-old fillies and the inaugural Stormy Liberal Stakes at five furlongs on the grass for older horses. Sunday’s program includes the Grade III Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at a mile on the turf for 2-year-olds. All three supporting stakes have a $100,000 purse.

Trainer Graham Motion will have four horses entered in the two Grade I stakes, including Bipartisanship in the Matriarch. Bipartisanship won the Kathryn Crosby Stakes on Nov. 12 and is one of two opening weekend winners running in the graded stakes this weekend, The Peter Miller-trained Handy Dandy, who won the Let It Ride on opening day, is in the Hollywood Derby.

The Todd Pletcher-trained Wit, who ran second to Balnikhov in a Grade III stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 29 after winning an allowance race a month earlier at Saratoga, is the 7-2 early pick. The son of Practical Joke will be ridden by Flavien Prat, who had two wins Friday to cut Juan Hernandez’s lead in the jockey standings to two.

But it is a close field with the Shug McGaughey-trained Celestial City (Ramon Vazquez) the second favorite coming off two straight wins, most recently a Grade II stakes at Aqueduct. Third-choice in the field is Cabo Spirit (Joe Bravo), who won the Grade III La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar on Aug. 7 and most recently won the Grade II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita on Oct. 29.

War At Sea is a winner of three is his last four starts under Mike Smith. Speaking Scout (Hernandez) ran second to Cabo Spirit in the Twilight Derby. And Handy Dandy (Florent Geroux), Script (Umberto Rispoli) and Spycatcher (Ryan Curatolo) ran 1-2-3, respectively, in the Let It Ride.

The stakes lineup begins with the Stormy Liberal, where the early favorite Lane Way has been scratched by Richard Mandella. But the trainer now has the co-favorite Sumter (Prat).

Sumter had won three straight races before running third in the La Jolla Handicap at Del Mar before shipping east to run 10th in a Grade II stakes at Kentucky Downs. The Mark Glatt-trained Whatmakessammyrun (Joe Bravo) is coming off a win in the Oct. 10 Grade II Eddie D Stakes at Santa Anita as an 18-1 long shot.

Leading fall meeting trainer Phil D’Amato will have three starters — Rebel Posse, Turn On The Jets and Coulthard — in the field.

Brown will also have the morning-line favorite in the Durante with Liguria (Prat). The daughter of War Front is coming off a win under Prat at Aqueduct.

Baltas suspended for year

Trainer Richard Baltas on Friday received a year’s suspension from the California Horse Racing Board for 21 counts of race-day substance violations between last April 15 and May 8 at Santa Anita. Baltas’ suspension will run from Dec. 9, 2022, to Dec. 8, 2023.

Baltas was not active during Del Mar’s summer and fall meetings this year.


Kyle Frey rode long shot Jack Sixpack ($35.60) to victory in Friday’s feature. Frey won with the three highest-paying winners of the day, including Hot Rod Jimmy ($17.40) in the second and Adam’s Creed ($18.20) in the ninth. Prat and Rispoli each had two winners Friday.

Center is a freelance writer.