The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s media guide for this summer has 23 pages dedicated to biographies of trainers.
Val Brinkerhoff is not among them.
The 61-year-old former jockey trains his horses in St. George, Utah, and with a small operation compared to the big names in racing, his visits to the winner’s circle are few.
When Brinkerhoff does get there, it’s a cause for joyful celebration and maybe some tears, and that was the scene late Wednesday afternoon at the opening of Del Mar’s 79th summer meeting.
On a 10-race card in which some of the more muscular barns divided most of the winnings, with Doug O’Neill seizing victories in four of the first five races, and Jerry Hollendorfer scoring three wins, the little guy beat them in the biggest race.
In the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes, Brinkerhoff’s Restrainedvengence, a 3-year-old gelding with two wins in his previous seven starts, and jockey Evin Roman surged at the top of the stretch and caught Hollendorfer’s Afleet Ascent to win by three-quarters of a length. Calexman, who led much of the way, was third.
Sent off at 11-1 odds for the one-mile turf race, Restrainedvengence paid $24.80 on a warm and muggy afternoon in which few longshots came in for the 33,112 in attendance.
Brinkerhoff celebrated in the winner’s circle with bear hugs from owner Bob Grayson Jr. Then the trainer choked back tears as he described Grayson’s recent battle with cancer and the news they got recently that he was in full remission.
“It’s very uplifting because my partner Bob Grayson had two kinds of cancer,” Brinkerhoff said. “He’s been taking chemotherapy all winter, and I think this horse saved his life.
“We knew this horse had some talent. This is the race we’ve been looking forward to all year, and we got it.”
The stakes victory was the third of Brinkerhoff’s career and second at Del Mar. The last here came in 2011 with Raetodandty in the Green Flash.
Last summer at Del Mar, Brinkerhoff had 13 starters and one win. Heading into this meet, he’d sent 51 horses to the gate in 2018, with six total victories — or one fewer than O’Neill and Hollendorfer combined for Wednesday.
This is even more revealing: With 1,000 starters in his career, Binkerhoff has earnings of $1.48 million. O’Neill’s checks cashed this year: $4.52 million.
“It’s awful hard,” Binkerhoff said of winning. “When you can beat the people we have with the little bit of resources we have, it’s awesome. We can’t do it very often, but every once in a while we get a horse that comes along who can do it.”
The rest of Del Mar’s opener was somewhat predictable, with two of the most successful Southern California trainers going toe to toe.
O’Neill had 12 horses for the opener and came away with the four wins. That put him one shy of his own Del Mar single-day record of five victories he achieved on July 29, 2015. He finished fifth in last year’s Del Mar summer trainer standings with 13 wins, and peers have been saying he’s loaded for this meeting.
“If I’m a betting man, and I’m betting on trainers to win the title this summer at Del Mar, I’m betting on Doug O’Neill,” said trainer Phil D’Amato, who tied for most wins last summer with 18. “He’s well diversified and he’s the heavy favorite.”
The fourth victory seemed the most improbable. In a 12-horse field going 11/16 miles on the turf, O’Neill had one entry – Ann Arbor Eddie. The 4-year-old hadn’t won in nine straight starts, his last victory coming more than a year ago, in July at Los Alamitos.
Mario Gutierrez had Ann Arbor Eddie near the lead from the gate and accelerated deep in the stretch past second betting choice, Ritzy A.P., and prevailed by a half-length. The $20 first-place payoff was the third highest of the day.
Del Mar announced the on-track handle for the day was $16,131,880, up 14% over last year. There were two winning Pick Six tickets that paid $45,744.60 each.
There were no apparent injuries on the track, though one horse created a wild scene in the paddock before the fourth race. The Peter Miller-trained Flying To The Line, a 2-year-old filly appearing in her second race, refused to be walked, and then she reared up when apprentice jockey Heriberto Figueroa tried to get into the saddle. Figueroa sprang off just before Flying To The Line fell backward. The dazed but apparently uninjured horse was helped up and scratched.