Both places are great, but Saratoga gets better horses than Del Mar


Today is opening day at Saratoga, a place I suggest you put on your bucket list. Not only as a racetrack destination but also as a historic sports venue.

I would compare it to visiting Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. These venues were built generations ago, and if you enter them now, it’s like going back in time — with a big smile on your face.

I had the pleasure of working at Saratoga for six summers. I was much younger then, and breaking curfew was a more accepted behavior.

But besides the social aspect of a Saratoga summer is the great horse racing. I often get asked which meet is better, Del Mar or Saratoga? To some degree, it’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Both places are wildly popular, especially for the social scene. There is good reason Del Mar is called “Las Vegas South.” And whenever I visit Saratoga during racing season, I love seeing everyone with a Daily Racing Form folded up their arms.

Where there is separation between Del Mar and Saratoga is in the overall quality of the racing product. Saratoga has an edge because of the large influx of horses from other racing circuits, such as Kentucky and the Mid-Atlantic states.

The people at Del Mar understand this. A few years ago they instituted a “Ship and Win” program to recruit more trainers and horses to come to Del Mar.

They hit a home run this summer when top Canadian trainer Mark Casse brought a stable of 40 horses. That will definitely help with the overall quality.

Both race meets will introduce a bevy of talented 2-year-olds, the future stars of the sport. In any juvenile maiden race, you’ll see a hot horse or two getting bet off the board.

Here’s a suggestion that has been profitable year after year. Keep a log of these hot horses that lose. Bet them back the next time they run, at much higher odds. You’ll be surprised how simple this system is, and you can win without much handicapping.

I would be remiss if I did not salute retiring New York Racing Association track announcer Tom Durkin. He said this year he would be leaving at the end of the Saratoga meet. It will be hard to envision all of the big races at Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct without his vivid commentary.

I have written that track announcers should be in Racing’s Hall of Fame. Announcers such as Durkin and Trevor Denman are as important to the history of an event as Vin Scully is to the Los Angeles Dodgers. They are treasures to be enjoyed.

■ GOLD COAST — Make plans to play in the Gold Coast Summer Classic from Thursday to July 26. The entry fee is $500. The top 50 finishers will win prize money, and the top five will earn a free berth into the 2015 Horseplayer World Series at The Orleans.

■ MUCHO MACHO MAN — Mucho Macho Man, the winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, has been retired to stud. His career earnings were more than $5.6 million. It was great for the sport to see a horse as talented as this run through age 6. Hopefully it will be a trend we’ll see more often.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.