By Dick Powell

Del Mar opens up on Thursday and Saratoga opens next Friday. Just in time with all the bad news piling up. MAIN SEQUENCE (Aldebaran) has been retired after racing poorly in the United Nations Handicap (G1) at Monmouth Park The 2014 champion older male and turf horse, even when he won the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2) early in the season at Gulfstream Park, never looked like he had the brilliant burst of speed that he showed last year with four straight Grade 1 stakes wins.

As we were digesting that news, the real shock came out of Belmont Park where Chad Brown announced that the undefeated LADY ELI (Divine Park) stepped on a nail returning from the test barn after her victory in the Belmont Oaks (G1) and now has laminitis in both front feet. Her prognosis is guarded but at best, it looks like her racing career is likely over.

The sojourn of CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit) continues to careen out of control. I had no problem with his trip to Dubai for the World Cup (UAE-G1) but after the race, it was decided that he would go straight to England to prepare for Royal Ascot. As he neared his goal, the Prince of Wales Stakes (Eng-G1), he had to be scratched due to a minor ailment.

Away from home since March, instead of going back to Art Sherman’s barn for an evaluation, he was shipped to Chicago to prepare for the Arlington Million (G1) and then the news broke that he had developed a bruised cannon bone. By the time he is back training, the 2015 racing season will be all but over. Earlier this week, minority owner Steve Coburn sold his 30 percent of California Chrome to Taylor Made Stallions in Kentucky where he will begin his stud career — either next year or the year after if they decide to race him again.

With what has happened to him, why not go for the Hambletonian? Too bad we couldn’t get Perry Martin to sell his 70 percent share soon enough to have mattered.

Finally, with Saratoga opening next week, Travers fever will be sweeping town. After the Haskell Invitational (G1) will be run at Monmouth Park, the crescendo will grow for AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) to come up here for the Travers Stakes (G1) at the end of August. Save your breath.

It says here that American Pharoah will go to the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) on September 19 as Parx Racing is holding a $20 million Fall Racing Festival from August 29 to October 20. The Pennsylvania Derby, which Bob Baffert won last year with BAYERN (Offlee Wild), will be the signature event and the timing works out perfectly for American Pharoah to go on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland six weeks later.

Before you get too excited, remember that Parx charges 30 percent takeout on Trifecta and Superfecta wagers. Not exactly fan friendly.

Del Mar opens this week and it will be the first summer meet run on dirt since 2006. I will miss the synthetic Polytrack, flaws and all. Let’s go down memory lane to put things in the proper context.

In 2006, 19 horses died on the dirt track at Del Mar. This forced the California Horse Racing Board to mandate that the four major dirt tracks in the state be converted to synthetic ones. When Del Mar did their Request for Proposal (RFP), they insisted that the bidder have five racing surfaces installed in the world. This knocked out Tapeta Footings, which was installed at Golden Gate Fields and is still doing well, which seemed to be the intent of how the RFP was written.

Thus, Del Mar went with Polytrack. To show you the folly of this decision, Keeneland removed its Polytrack for dirt, Del Mar did this year and Woodbine will replace their Polytrack with, you guessed it, Tapeta, when the 2015 racing season is over.

When Polytrack was installed at Del Mar in 2007, there were immediate concerns about its safety and performance. The Polytrack representatives said that they would address them AFTER the meet was over. So much for customer service.

One factor that Polytrack was up against was the environmental ban on “jelly cable.” This substance was described as “a waster product imported from China  – chopped up, lubricant-coated plastic previously used to insulate stripped copper wire” in the Los Angeles Times of July 18, 2007. It is a key component that hold down the kick back from the horses’ hooves and without it, Del Mar was at a disadvantage. Too bad their RFP didn’t take it into account.

We will have to see how the dirt performs this summer with long days of sunlight. The material will be the same used at Santa Anita so there should be some level of consistency and like most dirt tracks, much will depend on how much water will be put down by the track superintendent.

Del Mar starting gate photo courtesy of Cecilia Gustavsson/Horsephotos.com