Horses sprint from the starting gate during the first race on opening day… (Benoit Photo )
Del Mar is celebrating its 75th anniversary of horse racing by increasing purses in 10 stakes races, a move aimed at keeping California horses at home so they can race on the seaside venue's synthetic surface.
The season opens Wednesday, highlighted by the two-division $100,000 Oceanside Stakes for 3-year-olds on turf. Wednesday-through-Sunday racing continues through Sept. 5, including a Labor Day card.
Majestic City, winner of last year's Hollywood Juvenile Championship, is scheduled to race in the second division of the Oceanside Stakes.
Trainer John Sadler, who closed Hollywood Park's season with 11 victories in 21 starts, has four horses entered in the two Oceanside Stakes divisions.
Del Mar's richest race is the TVG Pacific Classic, worth $1 million, on Aug. 26. Trainer Bob Baffert's Richard's Kid, which won the 11/4 -mile race for 3-year-olds and up in 2009 and 2010, will seek to become the first three-time winner of the Pacific Classic, which dates to 1991.
Baffert isn't fond of the inconsistent results on Del Mar's Polytrack surface, but he says his horse "loves it down there … and will definitely be back," to race alongside Baffert's Breeders Cup Classic runner-up Game On Dude, to be ridden by Chantal Sutherland.
The Pacific Classic winner gains an automatic invitation to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Four other Del Mar races offer qualifying spots in the Nov. 2-3 Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita: Saturday's Eddie Read Stakes, the July 28 San Diego Handicap, the Aug. 4 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes and the Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 25.
Del Mar is seeking to boost the quality of competition throughout its meet with seven $300,000 races. They include the July 29 Bing Crosby Stakes for 3-year-olds, the Aug. 18 Del Mar Oaks, the Del Mar Debutante on Sept. 1 and the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 5.
Tom Robbins, Del Mar's executive vice president for racing and racing secretary, said his track is "leading the charge ... rewarding owners for buying and racing California-breds. Our breeding industry is heading for a turnaround and our Cal-bred purses will help to show the way."
The track will also seek to lure out-of-state owners by hosting its first-ever paddock sale of race-ready horses on Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
Baffert, for one, said he has been moving horses to New York's Saratoga course in past years but expects to do less of that now. He's aiming to place Executive Privilege, a horse he claims to be the "best filly in California," in the Aug. 8 Sorrento Stakes, worth $150,000.
Del Mar also has a new union with Oak Tree, the racing association that previously rented out Santa Anita for a fall meet from 1969 to 2010.
Oak Tree has helped fund the new $100,000 Oak Tree Juvenile Fillies Turf on Sept. 3 and the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf on Sept. 5.
Also, the group has contributed to the new Yellow Ribbon Handicap — formerly known as the Palomar Handicap — a $250,000 race for 3-year-olds and up over 11/4 miles on Sept. 3.