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The long horse racing season moves to Del Mar

The long horse racing season moves to Del Mar
A worker prepares Del Mar for the start of the summer season. (Howard Lipin / The San Diego-Union-Tribune)

The Breeders’ Cup is over and most of the star-power horses have packed it in for the year. Still, the 51-week racing season marches on and its next stop is back at Del Mar, where it left on Labor Day.

One advantage this 16-day meeting has is it still has a good turf course — and a couple of Grade 1 races to be run on it. Nine of the 14 stakes races are on the turf. Chad Brown, who is known as a great turf trainer, even plans to send some of his horses from New York to Del Mar for this fall meeting. All of the regular Southern California trainers and jockeys are back for this meeting.

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Because of the shortening days, Del Mar even institutes an earlier start, at 12:30 p.m., instead of summer’s 2 p.m. There is an 11 a.m. post on Thanksgiving.

This will be the fifth year that Del Mar has hosted this fall meeting, getting the dates, and some of the races, from Hollywood Park after it closed. Two of the races are the Hollywood Turf Cup and the Hollywood Derby.

The meet is quite different than the storied summer meeting in that it has smaller crowds and lacks the vacation-like feel. It is more for horse players than those enjoying the location.

It is also quite different from last year, when the meeting opened by hosting the Breeders’ Cup. The track pulled off the event so well that it was awarded another Breeders’ Cup in 2021. The moderate weather and lack of rain serve as a contrast to this year’s Breeders’ Cup in cold and wet Louisville, Ky.

The meet is also ending on Dec. 2, which is a little later than normal. The track normally ends after Thanksgiving. The final weekend is where two Grade 1s have been placed, with the $300,000 Hollywood Derby on Dec. 1 and the $300,000 Matriarch Stakes on closing day, Dec. 2.

Racing moves to Los Alamitos from Dec. 6-16 before taking a week off, setting up the marathon Santa Anita meeting with its traditional Dec. 26 start.

Del Mar has rarely had problems getting big fields, popular with bettors. But things may be off a shade this meeting.

“The numbers of the horse population and overall activity for the month of October are down,” racing secretary David Jerkens said in a news release. “But I’m cautiously optimistic that we can once again achieve the level that we have in the past.”

Average field size has been 8.5 for two years. Friday’s opening day card has 67 horses over eight races, averaging 8.3. The feature is the $75,000 Kathryn Crosby Stakes, for fillies and mares going a mile on the turf. Saturday’s average for nine races is 8.5 horses.

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