At the gambling house that Bing Crosby built, who was the leading trainer last season?
That's would seem a safe guess, since Mitchell was the top trainer at Del Mar for four straight years earlier this decade. But Mitchell underwent stomach surgery midway through the meeting last year and his barn won only seven races.
That's a good guess, too, since Whittingham has won 55 stakes races here--more than anybody--and hasn't slowed down since he helped open Del Mar 50 years ago. But Whittingham's game is stakes horses, who might only run a couple of times during the seven-week season, and he has led the overall standings only once, in 1971.
Another good guess, considering that Lukas, since leaving the quarter horse business in the late 1970s, has led the nation in just about everything--stakes won, money won, assistant trainers, horses bought and nonstop conversation. But no, the Lukas barn's better horses are usually found at Saratoga at this time of year.
You must have peeked. At any rate, give anybody saying Henry Moreno a piece of candy, which is what visitors usually get when they visit the 57-year-old trainer's stable office.
Moreno won 13 races here last year, one more than Mel Stute, Ron McAnally and Bruce Headley, who tied for second place. Moreno needed only 41 starters--compared to 97 for Stute--and 24 of Moreno's horses finished in the money, for a sizzling rate of .585.
Before last summer, Moreno hadn't led a race meeting anywhere, except during his quarter horse days. Moreno guesses that he led a quarter horse meeting at Del Mar around 1950.
Moreno, who switched to thoroughbreds in the early 1960s, has been training for a long time.
How long? The mischievous, deadpanned Moreno answered that question this way: "The first time I ever saddled a horse in the paddock, my mother had to change my diapers afterward."
Well removed from that apocryphal day, Moreno will saddle Temptation Time, a two-time winner in the recently completed meeting at Hollywood Park, for the second division of today's Oceanside Stakes. The nine-race program will kick off Del Mar's 48th season, and begin the golden anniversary of the track--it was closed for three years during World War II--that was founded by Crosby and some of his Hollywood friends in 1937.
Moreno has won eight stakes at Del Mar, but he never has won the Oceanside. A trainer who has had his greatest success with fillies, Moreno has won the Ramona Handicap three times--with Jalousie II in 1964, Tizna in 1974 and Sangue in 1983.
Typically, the best of Moreno's 32 horses at Del Mar this summer will probably be females. Frau Altiva, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred mare, was a stakes winner on the grass at Santa Anita this year, and Silk's Lady, a 3-year-old filly who was second to Sacahuista in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita last October, but last on closing day at Hollywood Park, is still a possibility for the $150,000 Del Mar Oaks Aug. 30.
Another of Moreno's 3-year-old fillies, Timely Assertion, will soon be returning to the barn after a freshening. Timely Assertion won the Santa Anita Oaks in March, but was knocked around in a roughly run Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park in April and hasn't run since.
Last year, Moreno saddled Ack Ack Heir to win an allowance race on the second-last day of the season and that was the difference between him and the three runner-up trainers.
Moreno will consider it a bonus if Yippyayo, a 5-year-old gelding, is any help at Del Mar this season. Moreno refers to Yippyayo as a "professional maiden," and the characterization is apt, since the horse has run 25 times in his life without winning.
Some tracks wouldn't even allow a 5-year-old maiden on the grounds.
"We got him in," Moreno said. "Fortunately, we've got enough other good horses to carry him."
Horse Racing Notes
Sandbar, a horse entered in the first division of today's Oceanside, is a shipper from Mew Mexico who ran for a $2,500 claiming price earlier this year at San Juan Downs. Yes, San Juan Downs is in New Mexico. . . . Del Mar's 43-day season runs through Sept. 16, with no racing on Tuesdays, and post time at 2 p.m. . . . Al Mamoon, who may try to win the Eddie Read Handicap at Del Mar for the second straight time, missed his last start at Hollywood Park because of what has been called a minor hoof injury. . . . Temperate Sil, winner of the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park Sunday, suffered a minor cut on his right front ankle when he was squeezed coming out of the gate.
Something Lucky, although he was medicated for bleeding, bled anyway in the Swaps and ran last. . . . Zany Tactics, who holds the world record for six furlongs--1:06 4/5--bled in his last two races in New York, where medication isn't permitted. He will be running at Del Mar Sunday, as the co-high weight with Zabaleta, in the Bing Crosby Handicap.
Not all of the Hollywood Park horses headed to Del Mar. Trainer Mel Stute has four--Very Subtle, Rare Starlet, Tomorrow's Child and Mixed Pleasure--who are going East to run at Monmouth Park and Saratoga, and Gary Jones plans to run Seldom Seen Sue against males in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Aug. 8. . . .Del Mar will take betting Saturday on the Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park.
Del Mar has added two message boards, one in front of the track and the other trackside. The inside board is the same one used at Santa Anita.
Native Diver was a convincing winner over Seabiscuit in a media poll rating the best horses to have run at Del Mar in the last 50 years. Fifty-two voters listed 10 horses, and Native Diver was named on 48 ballots. Seabiscuit was mentioned on 33. Native Diver received 20 first-place votes, Seabiscuit 11.
An 8-year-old gelding, Native Diver died shortly after winning the Del Mar Handicap in 1967. After Native Diver and Seabiscuit, the next three places in the voting went to Ancient Title, Go West Young Man and Ack Ack. Althea, Flying Paster, How Now and Wickerr tied for the next spot, and Precisionist rounded out the top 10.