Phil D’Amato. Benoit Photo
DEL MAR, Calif.—It was a good start to the Bing Crosby meet for both the jockey and the trainer who are back this fall at Del Mar to defend their respective titles.
Leading rider Juan Hernandez didn’t waste any time setting the tone, winning the first race of the day aboard Leisurewear (IRE), a Kodiak filly breaking her maiden in her 13th start. Hernandez is bidding to win his third straight riding title at Del Mar following his runaway victory during the summer which followed his title at last year’s fall meet.
Both of those title runs included numerous stakes wins and Hernandez stayed true to form, capturing the first stakes race of the meet, the $75,000 Let It Ride. The talented rider guided Handy Dandy to a thrilling nose victory over Script in the opening day grass feature. This after the 3-year-old broke through the gate during the loading of the race.
Despite winning two races Friday, Hernandez is not alone atop the jockey standings. Veteran rider John Velazquez, riding fulltime for the first time at Del Mar this fall, made his presence known, winning back-to-back races. He won the third race with Ah Jeez for the Doug O’Neill barn then came right back and won aboard Baladi for trainer Michael McCarthy in the fourth race.
Kyle Frey also won a pair of races on opening day. His victory in the fifth race is notable for hunch players. He won aboard Durante in a one-mile race on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course for trainer Keith Craigmyle. He returned to win the nightcap with Bali Dancer for trainer Librado Barocio.
As for defending champion trainer Phil D’Amato, he also won two races on the opening day card but he’s the only conditioner to pull off the feat. D’Amato, like Hernandez, is also looking to score his third straight title at Del Mar. He shared the trainers’ championship from the summer meet with Bob Baffert, but won the Bing Crosby meet outright in 2021.
D’Amato didn’t waste any time getting on the board Friday, winning with Leisurewear in the first race. He added his second win of the day when Atomic Drop, a 4-year old gelded son of Mucho Macho Man, won a first level Cal-bred allowance in the sixth race.
An enthusiastic Veterans Day crowd of 4,268 helped kick off the new season under clear skies. Nine races are on tap for both Saturday and Sunday. Post time is at 12:30 p.m.
COOLING OUT: Trainer Michael Stidham has nominated Princess Grace for the G1 Matriarch run on closing day, Sunday December 4th. The 5-year-old mare has been running in Kentucky this year. She won the G2 Yellow Ribbon at Del Mar in 2021…The first opportunity to train on the Jimmy Durante Turf Course presents itself tomorrow morning…Notable works on Saturday: Dirt – Secret Fix (4f, 45:80); Parnelli (5f, :58.00); Lady T (5f, :58.80) and Roll On Big Joe (6f, 1:12.20). A total of 21 horses put in official works.