Del Mar cancels Thursday races due to rainy weather forecast; Derby appeal rejected by judge

Record rainfall disrupted racing at Del Mar in August 2016.
Record rainfall disrupted racing at Del Mar in August 2016.
(Union-Tribune file photo

There’s no greater proof of San Diego’s famously fair weather than this:

In 82 years, the Del Mar race track has never lost a single day of horse racing to inclement weather.

That streak will end next week on Thursday, Nov. 21.

On Friday, Nov. 15, with the skies bright with sunshine and the temperature at 67 degrees for first post, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club cited a bad weather forecast and an “abundance of caution” in deciding to cancel Thursday’s eight-race card.

“We know this is unusual for Del Mar, but equine and rider safety is always our primary concern,” Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s executive vice president for racing, said.

Del Mar said it consulted in the decision with industry stakeholders, including the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Horse Racing Board.

It will be only the second day lost in Del Mar history. The previous occasion came in August 1985, when horsemen held back entries in protest following an INS raid of undocumented workers on the backstretch.

Last fall, rain affected two days of racing, with turf races moved to the dirt track.

There were four turf races scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 21, according to DMTC racing secretary David Jerkens.

It is important for Del Mar to maintain the integrity of the grass because the final seven stakes races of the meet (Nov. 28-Dec. 1) are scheduled for the turf, including two Grade I events, the Hollywood Derby and Matriarch.

Forecasts for Del Mar call for a 20-percent chance of rain on Tuesday, Nov. 19, a 50-percent chance on Wednesday, Nov. 20, and 40-percent chance on Thursday, Nov. 21, with rain possibly heavy at times.

The cancellation of racing six days before the card is unusual, but these are different times in the industry.

There is a greater focus on animal safety and welfare after Santa Anita suffered 30 horse deaths in its winter/spring meet. Among the theories about why there were so many breakdowns was that the composition of the Santa Anita track was altered when it received 11½ inches of rain from January to March.

On Jan. 17, Santa Anita canceled an eight-race card after 3½ inches fell over a three-day period.

With Gov. Gavin Newsom, state legislators and animal rights advocates heavily focused on deaths at race tracks, Del Mar is in a position to err on the side of caution. After a summer in which no horses died during racing (four died in training), Del Mar had two horses suffer catastrophic injuries in a 90-minute span Sunday, Nov. 10. Both were euthanized.

Despite Thursday’s cancellation, Del Mar officials are hoping to make up the races for owners and trainers. Jerkens said Friday, Nov. 15, he is asking horsemen to enter Thursday’s races by Sunday, Nov. 17, with the prospects that those races will be run on other days of the meet.

Fall’s first graded stakes on Saturday

Six 2-year-olds who all have victories in their young careers were entered for the first graded stakes race of the fall meet Saturday, Nov. 16, but only four will run.

The $100,000 Grade III Bob Hope Stakes will be held over 7 furlongs, and it features prospective stars for trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill.

Baffert entered two colts, High Velocity and Thousand Words, but is expected to scratch the latter. Owned by Gary and Mary West of Rancho Santa Fe, High Velocity won his first career race Oct. 13 at Santa Anita.

O’Neill had a pair of Hope entrants including Strong Constitution — the morning-line favorite — who won his debut Aug. 23 at Del Mar over 5 furlongs on turf. Howbeit, a winner of his last two starts, was scratched Friday, Nov. 15.

Wests lose Derby court case

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that an effort by Gary and Mary West to overturn the disqualification of their horse, Maximum Security, in the 2019 Kentucky Derby was rejected in Kentucky by U.S. District Judge Karen E. Caldwell.

Citing state regulations that race disqualifications are not subject to judicial review, Caldwell granted a motion to dismiss the case.

Stewards ruled that Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first, interfered with other horses, and second-place finisher Country House was declared the winner.

The Wests, who called the decision “arbitrary and capricious,” have the right to appeal Caldwell’s decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

— Tod Leonard is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune