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Del Mar, Saratoga meets in jeopardy as cornavirus holds sway

Updated April 16, 2020 - 6:20 pm

With all the cancellations, suspensions and closures, it should come as no surprise that both the Del Mar and Saratoga race meets are in jeopardy.

No one has said anything definitive yet about canceling or postponing the scheduled meets at the iconic venues, which have been conducting superlative summer racing for 240 years between them. But it’s no exaggeration to say that both are on thin ice as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hold sway.

Joe Harper, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president and CEO, said in an interview this week with a San Diego news station KUSI that “everything’s up in the air” as far as the Del Mar meet scheduled to begin on July 18 and run through Sept. 7.

The interview came after local officials announced the cancellation of the San Diego County Fair, which was to have run from June 5-July 5 at the fairgrounds that also houses the racetrack.

Harper did hold out a ray of hope that Del Mar could run races without fans in the stands, as tracks like Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park have successfully been doing for more than a month now.

As for Saratoga, the bad omen was a delay announced last week in the anticipated April 15 opening of the Oklahoma training facility. The statement stressed that the delay did not mean the start of the Saratoga meet scheduled for July 16-Sept. 7 would be delayed.

That remained the state of play on Thursday, even as the New York Racing Association was announcing that the start of the scheduled Belmont Park spring-summer meet would be delayed for an unknown period and that the date of the Belmont Stakes would likely be shifted from June 6 to later in the year.

As for Saratoga, all NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna would say Thursday is that the meeting remains on the schedule.

“While we are monitoring the current conditions and consulting with the New York State Department of Health, we are planning for Saratoga to open as scheduled and run in its entirety across the 40-day meet,” he said. “We are working in earnest each and every day to prepare for the 2020 Saratoga season.”

The loss of either of these summer gems would be big blow to the states and horseplayers everywhere. Here’s hoping they can find a way to navigate these difficult times and put on the fantastic racing they are renowned for.

#RJhorseracing featured races

The #RJhorseracing handicappers return to Oaklawn Park, which is benefiting from the closure of many of the tracks it would normally be competing with and drawing full fields for its races.

This week’s quarry: Saturday’s $350,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at 6 furlongs for 3-year-olds and up and the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, a 1 1/6th mile test for fillies and mares 4 and up.

In the former, the crew is solidly behind 5-2 morning line favorite Whitmore, who enters this race off a sharp score in the Hot Spring Stakes at Oaklawn last month. They have Flagstaff (7-2) and Bobby’s Wicked One (3-1) to place and show.

Whitmore is the deserved chalk, but I’ll try and beat him with Hidden Scroll (4-1). Normally you’d be crazy to back a horse jumping up from a lower-level allowance race into a graded stakes, but with Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott calling the shots I’m willing to make an exception. I’ll use Whitmore to place and Bobby’s Wicked One to show.

In the Apple Blosssom, the crowd ‘cappers are edging out on a limb and backing speedy 4-year-old Serengeti Empress, the 4-1 third choice on the morning line, over Ce Ce (7-2) and Come Dancing (3-1) for second and third.

I think my chums are again on the right track with all three of those runners, but I see an abundance of speed signed up for this and will take a shot with an off-the-pace runner, the aptly named Lady Apple (15-1), who struggled over a sloppy racetrack in her last but beat Serengeti Empress two races back. I’ll use Serengeti Empress to place and Awe Emma (20-1) to show.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears on Fridays. You can reach him at at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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