Del Mar set to open fall meet sans Prat

Jockey Flavien Prat will miss the beginning of Del Mar's fall meet in order to ride in Breeders' Cup.
Jockey Flavien Prat will miss the beginning of Del Mar’s fall meet in order to ride in Breeders’ Cup next weekend in Kentucky.
(Benoit Photo)

Leading jockey staying in Kentucky for Breeders’ Cup, but will return


Coming off a summer season that clearly exceeded expectations, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club opens its five-week fall meet today, Oct. 31, with optimism, but again without fans — and for at least the first four race days without its reigning jockey champion.

COVID-19 protocols remain in place, which prevent fans — other than owners of participating horses — from populating the grandstands for the 15-day meeting.

And Breeders’ Cup responsibilities plus the track’s COVID-19 protocols will keep summer meet riding champion Flavien Prat away from Del Mar through at least Nov. 7.

Prat, summer meeting runner-up Umberto Rispoli and Efrain Hernandez are committed to racing in the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 6-7 at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Two other Del Mar riders also could have Breeders’ Cup mounts. Prat is in Kentucky early to help prepare two Simon Callaghan-trained horses for the Breeders’ Cup.

But while COVID-19 protocols prevented most Del Mar riders from participating in the delayed Kentucky Derby during the summer meeting, modified rules will allow riders to return to action at Del Mar on Sunday, Nov. 8.

The jockey protocols in place during the summer required jockeys to miss two Del Mar weekends to ride in the Kentucky Derby — forcing most riders to remain in place. Jockeys weren’t allowed to return from Churchill Downs and ride at the end of Del Mar’s final weekend.

The new protocol will allow jockeys to fly home to California immediately after the Breeders’ Cup and race the following day.

“Returning jockeys will have to be tested Sunday morning by our medical team from Scripps,” said Del Mar President and COO Josh Rubinstein. “If they test negative, they will ride out of the auxiliary jockey room Nov. 8. After a second negative test after Nov. 8, they will move back into the regular jockey room.”

Said Derek Lawson, the agent for Prat: “Missing the Kentucky Derby was leaving Del Mar for that one race under a different set of circumstances. The Breeders’ Cup is too important to miss.”

There will be 16 stakes races during Del Mar’s seventh Bing Crosby meeting, including nine graded stakes races.

After the first weekend, Del Mar will host three, three-day racing weekends followed by a four-day final weekend starting Thanksgiving Day. Seven of the stakes races will be contested on the final weekend starting Nov. 26 — capped by the $300,000 Grade I Hollywood Derby and Matriarch Stakes on the final two days.

Paced by significant increases in handles from computer and off-site wagering, Del Mar had a strong summer season.

“We were very pleased about the results of the summer season,” said Rubinstein. “But the fall meeting is a different animal. That said, we are optimistic.”

The highlights of the first weekend are today’s $75,000 Kathryn Crosby Stakes for older fillies and mares and Sunday’s $75,000 Let It Ride stakes for 3-year-olds. Both races are at a mile on the turf.

One significant change in the wagering menu is the reduction in the minimum bet for the Pick Six from $2 to 50 cents.

The single-ticket jackpot format remains in place, with 80 percent of the daily pool paid to tickets with six winners and the other 20 percent going into a pool that is paid when there is only one winning ticket.


— Bill Center is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.