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Many of the Hardest Workers at Del Mar Will Be Commuters : Opening day: For various reasons, some trainers will stable their horses in L.A. and ship them south as needed.

July 27, 1994|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DEL MAR — The I-405/I-5 corridor between Los Angeles and Del Mar, frequently a time-consuming obstacle course for motorists, might have more congestion this racing season because of horse vans rolling in and out of Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. As Del Mar's 43-day season opens today, a number of trainers, including Bobby Frankel, Neil Drysdale and Paco Gonzalez, will be drop-in participants, stabling and training their horses in the Los Angeles area and shipping them south as the races require.

Frankel won't stable horses at Del Mar because of what he perceives to be a safety factor. With Drysdale, it's mainly an economic move.

Eddie Gregson, who won the 1981 Del Mar Futurity with Gato Del Sol, the year before the colt won the Kentucky Derby, is also tightening his stable's budget and is glad to be away from the crowded conditions at Del Mar during morning training hours.

Most of the stay-away trainers don't plan to run fewer horses during Del Mar's 55th season, but Frankel, who has won 234 races and 33 stakes at the track, including the last two runnings of the $1-million Pacific Classic, thinks the trend might affect the size of some fields.

"If you've got a borderline horse," Frankel said, "you'd be more likely to run if you're right there, but you might think twice about running if you've got to ship."

Other trainers who will be vanning horses from Hollywood Park and Santa Anita include Mark Hennig and Sandy Shulman, who finished second to Ron McAnally in the standings at the recently completed Hollywood meeting, winning 24 races with 109 starters.

Del Mar officials don't think the ship-in trainers will affect the quality of their Wednesday-through-Monday season.

"When I first heard about the situation, I was concerned," said Joe Harper, the track's general manager. "But actually we've had the biggest demand we've ever had for stall space, and we've even looked for extra space where we might add a few stalls."

Harper estimated Del Mar has 2,300 stalls and said the requests have reached about 4,000, compared to the 3,500 range in recent years.

If opening-day entries are indicative, Del Mar will not be part of the national horse-shortage problem, which has been caused by too much racing and cutbacks in the breeding business. Today's nine-race card drew 104 entries, and for the sixth consecutive year the Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds will be split into two divisions.

The number of horses entered for Thursday drops to 82, one of them Bertrando in the $60,000 Wickerr Stakes at one mile on grass. Bertrando won last year's Pacific Classic and has earned $3 million, but didn't race the first half of this year because his owners gave him an early start at a stud career.

Frankel used to train the Eclipse Award-winning Bertrando, saddling him for his last start, a second-place finish behind Arcangues in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November. But he didn't agree with the idea of breeding the 5-year-old before resuming his racing career. Bertrando underwent surgery for a chipped knee after the Breeders' Cup.

"I don't know what's wrong with the (Del Mar) track," Frankel said. "All I know is that I break down a lot of horses there."

Drysdale started only 13 horses at Del Mar last year, but his two victories, in the San Clemente Handicap and the Del Mar Oaks, were important, helping pad a record that led to an Eclipse Award for Hollywood Wildcat.

"The economy is the major factor," Drysdale said. "The prices we're charging to train have stayed the same, but our expenses have gone up. Vanning is not that big of a deal. What does it take, 45 minutes to get a horse from Hollywood Park to Santa Anita? Then it's only about an hour and a half from Hollywood to Del Mar."

Owners have been leaving the game in alarming numbers, and consequently many trainers are reluctant to increase their daily rates per horse, which are in the $70 range at the high end.

"I don't know of a trainer who's raised his rates in the last three or four years," Gregson said. "When you're stabled at Del Mar, you subsidize your stable crews because of the high summer rates down there, and I can't justify that any more. Part of the fun of the game is the owners going to Del Mar to see their horses train and race, but I didn't get any pressure from my owners to stable there this year.

"The track is so crowded down there in the mornings that it's not the best place to train. The track has so many horses on it that it can make your horses nervous. They did widen the track several feet, but I don't think it's helped that much. We (trainers) wanted a real training track, something more than the (half-mile) pony track that can only accommodate a couple of a horses at a time. Instead, they gave us an $80-million grandstand."

Horse Racing Notes

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