by SCOTT SHAPIRO
We are now three weeks into the summer calendar at Del Mar and there are a number of surprises that have taken place thus far.
Atop the unexpected occurrences is the poor start for trainer Peter Miller.
Miller has been red-hot all year in Southern California, but things have not gone his way to start the summer in San Diego County. The former Charlie Whittingham assistant cruised to the spring trainer title at Santa Anita with 36 wins and a win percentage of 27%. Most horseplayers assumed his incredible 2017 would continue, but that has not been the case.
After three weeks of racing the Los Angeles native has just seven wins. He is clicking at just 10 percent and his runners are only hitting the board a shocking 36 percent of the time.
Miller was able to notch two victories on Sunday with Freddie’s Dream in the first and late running Banze No Oeste in the fourth, so perhaps he is beginning to heat up. I would be surprised if the extremely competitive conditioner does not start winning races in bunches over the second half of the 2017 meet.
In addition to not seeing Miller’s name at the top of the standings, two of the mainstays of the circuit Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer are off to slow starts.
Baffert is winning at a solid 23% clip, but has just three wins so far and has seen a few extremely likely winners not fire over the Del Mar surface.
Hollendorfer has been all but absent from the winner’s circle despite throwing out 42 runners. His three wins have him at a startling 7% after 15 days of racing.
Almost as astonishing as Miller’s lack of success is the lack of victories that Frenchman Flavian Prat has compiled over the Jimmy Durante Turf Course. The 24-year-old rider has dominated turf races of late on the Southern California circuit, but has struggled to find the wire first on the Del Mar lawn this summer.
Prat has just three wins in 39 mounts on the sod through three weeks and plenty of them have come on logical contenders. It is hard to imagine that he will not get things going on the grass in the coming weeks, but the magic has not been there as of yet “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”
In terms of the veteran riders on the circuit, Mike Smith has not carried his hot hand down to North County. The Hall of Famer has just two wins from 14 mounts. It is likely that when Baffert and the “Dorf” get going it will lead to more wins for Smith, but he did struggle big time here last summer winning just two of 57, so nothing is guaranteed.
Another surprise thus far at Del Mar this summer has been the struggles of the public’s top choice at the windows.
Favorites have only hit at 28% over the first three weeks and that includes a Sunday where six of the nine chalks got to the wire first.
The failed favorites includes the off-the-board finish from Arrogate, who was one of the biggest favorites in recent memory in the San Diego H. (G2) during the first week of racing, but failed to pick up his feet leading to massive payouts in the Place and Show pools.
Racing continues at Del Mar on Wednesday afternoon and runs through Labor Day. Perhaps those with poor starts and those backing short priced runners will have more success over the coming weeks.
You can find my full card Daily Selections each and everyday for the Southern California circuit here.