by Umberto Rispoli
Saturday 24th July – Eddie Read Stakes & San Clemente, Del Mar
It’s great to be back at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, located amid the famous Fairgounds, where I have some fantastic recent memories, having prevailed as the top jock of last season at this picturesque venue. It’s all set to be an even more spectacular summer by the surf this term, though, now that the fans are back, bringing with them that much-missed combination of atmosphere and expectation around the best of SoCal racing.
In any case, we jockeys live to breathe that rarefied air of pressure, and hopefully it’s a cauldron in which I thrive. Particularly because the Breeders’ Cup is also coming to La Jolla later this year, so hopefully my local course knowledge will give all my mounts an edge from now until early November!
Before I get to this weekend’s exciting double-header in the shape of the Eddie Read Stakes and the San Clemente, our Grade 2 highlights, first a couple of thoughts on the Del Mar track itself. I rode here in the opening weekend last week, and I must admit there was slightly less dirt on the track that in time gone by. But it’s already heavier and fairer this week. As ever, and like most US dirt surfaces, outside draws are favoured but not impossible to overcome. Nevertheless, the only real hex is the dreaded rail post position, a huge concern for any horse occupying it for sure.
Ostensibly, it’s a different, fairer story on the turf, particularly since the grounds-staff have done such a wonderful job preparing a beautiful, deep covering of grass that should look after all contenders and give them a legitimate shot. That said, I feel it’s already running pretty firm so, as with last year, I reckon the front-runners should enjoy a big advantage as the season progresses. True, we saw a few decent come-from-behind efforts last weekend, but that was more reflective of some taking types overcoming the run of the race. Make no mistake, I plan to bounce out and make all on quite a few, or at least sit handy, and I expect that trend will only extend throughout the summer.
As for local lads and trainers to watch, keep an eye out for Walther Solis whose stable is on the rise with all his inmates in good heart, it seems. Although that comment especially applies to his two-year-olds, who seem well forward and represent and promising wider crop. Solis could certainly upset a few standing dishes and the established order around Del Mar, but I still expect the local trainers’ championship to be tightly contested between Richard Baltas, Peter Miller and Phil D’Amato.
Enough said, now on to this weekend’s coming attractions…
Umberto’s Eddie Read Big Race 1-2-3:
Winner: Smooth Like Strait
Danger: Say The Word
Smooth Like Strait – we might as well start with my favourite horse and the classiest in the race, according to official figures. In short, I’m not about to desert my old pal here, just three weeks on from a wonderful win in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile at Santa Anita. True, this is a competitive heat with some established dangers and dangerous unknowns, but Smooth Like Strait is working well at home and seems sure to show his form, so I’m going to keep the faith. After all, nothing is easy on the road to the Breeders’ Cup!
As I’ve mentioned before, “Smooth” has bags of tactical pace, which always grants me a strategic advantage in these Grade 1 contests, and continues to mature into a well-balanced and fully furnished four-year-old. He’s now prevailed in seven of his 15 starts and bagged a wafer shy of $1m in prize money, so let’s smash though that significant barrier on the way to even bigger tests.
United – super talented, but has to bounce back after what I can only describe as a very weird performance last time. Yes, that’s a technical term! United won the Eddie Read in grand style as favourite last year, but appears to have lost his way of late. You’re taking a return to form on trust – and regardless, this is a much tougher renewal.
Say The Word – came close(ish) last time, and a mile is the absolute minimum for this one, to my jaundiced eye. In fact, I can see Say The Word coming into his own at a mile and a half. Plus, he’d then neatly avoid Smooth Like Strait, so we’d all be happy! Admittedly, he put in an encouraging effort behind us last time and rates my main danger. However, I can see no reason why this six-year-old gelding would suddenly turn the tables on “Smooth”.
Umberto’s San Clemente Big Race 1-2-3:
Winner: Going Global
Place: Closing Remarks
Going Global – a sure-fire favourite and it’s impossible to take issue with the way in which she keeps clocking up the wins, improving along the way as she’s posted a five-timer, stemming back all the way to more lowly beginnings at a nursery in Dundalk! The subsequent transatlantic trip has clearly been the making of Going Global and, as I’ve alluded to, few know the demands of Santa Anita and Del Mar better than her handler Phil D’Amato. The San Clemente is just the next step in Phil’s carefully mapped-out game plan, staying in California for the foreseeable future. I’ve seen her working recently too, and she looks a bit of a monster. Who am I to argue?
Closing Remarks – well, I suppose I am aboard one of Going Global’s chief rivals here and we’ve certainly got a shot if the favourite underperforms. Closing Remarks is actually entered the day before on Friday (over seven furlongs, drawn one on the dirt, which is a bit of a stinker!) so I’ve advised connections to come here instead on the grass which should suit her better anyway. If she takes her chance, we should work our way into the frame at worst hopefully.
Pizzazz – a keen sort, who typically relaxes into herself once her ears are up and she’s restrained. Pizzazz has a good draw and should break next to Going Global and enjoy a favourable passage. Although there’s also the risk that contesting things with the market leader will light her up, and that’s my only note of concern. She looks the next-best in this field.
Jibber Jabber – my alternative ride, who I’ll probably hop on, if Closing Remarks engages on Friday’s card instead. A nice sort, mind you, but just not up to this level at this stage in her career.
Del Mar – Weekend One To Watch
Fi Fi Pharoah (Race 7, Friday) – Bidding for a hat-track and I can see no obstacle to her maintain the triumphant thread on Friday’s taster card. Fi Fi Pharoah is a Cal-bred doing everything well at home and filling out pleasingly. I’m confident she can extend her winning sequence here on the way to better things.
… right, that’s my lot. I’ll be back in seven days’ time to assess another big-race double-bill in the shape of the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes & Bing Crosby Stakes. Until then, stay lucky!”
Umberto Rispoli – Top-Jockey
Der ehemalige zweifache italienische Champion hat weltweit auf höchstem Niveau gewonnen, von Frankreich bis Japan und Hongkong. Letztes Jahr wechselte er über den Atlantik nach Nordamerika, wo er von seiner neuen Basis in Kalifornien aus seine Liebe zum Rennreiten neu entfacht hat, wie er sagt. Die Akklimatisierung erfolgte sofort und Umberto kam sogar bis auf einen Sieg an den führenden Jockey des Sommers in Del Mar heran.