DEL MAR MEMORIES VOLUME 1: DULLAHAN DOES IT!
Make no mistake, the summer meet is always something special at old Del Mar. Since Bing Crosby opened the gates on July 3, 1937, many magical memories have been created. Let’s take a look at a few we have enjoyed during our heavenly visits to the Seaside Oval.
It’s 2012 and we decided to make the journey out West for the first time. Like Jed Clampett before us, we loaded up and headed towards the Pacific Ocean. Hadn’t found the black gold, but opportunity was presenting itself. Me and Ellie Mae (truly a nickname my lovely wife and assistant had garnered while working at a vet clinic whilst in college) jumped on a bird’s back with Del Mar as our destination. Aerial photography had given me an idea about the magnificence of this place, and with the cooperation of the brilliant Mac McBride (director of media at Del Mar), a dream was about to become reality for a hillbilly turf writer.
The million-dollar Pacific Classic is one of the crown jewels in the handicap division of Thoroughbred racing. The purse money and the level of competition makes it worth a roll of the dice if you think your horse is right. Since the first running in 1991, top competition has lined up to run for a spot in the books of this historic track and 2012 would be no different. The big hitters from California were there, but in the end it would be a courageous stretch run from an invader that would decide the Classic.
Dale Romans has always been a horseman that believes in the game. A true competitor, the Louisville native that is now the all-time leader in wins as a trainer at Churchill Downs has never been scared to run his horses when they are right. Yes, shipping to the West Coast is always a challenge, but Romans had reason to believe he had a three-year old that could challenge the heavy hitters of the left coast.
Dullahan was a sizeable son of Even The Score that had demonstrated the ability to run well on synthetic surfaces. A win in the Toyota Bluegrass Stakes over the Keeneland polytrack in April and a closing third place finish in the Kentucky Derby told Romans the horse had more than just a little giddiup. After a seventh place finish in the Belmont Stakes and a fifth in the Haskell at Monmouth Park, the Donegal Racing team decided to roll the dice. The mile and a quarter distance was right on time for Dullahan’s closing kick and the synthetic surface at Del Mar was something they felt would be beneficial as well. So on August 26, 2012, Dullahan entered the starting gates as the new kid on the block. California kingpin Game On Dude and two-time Pacific Classic winner Richard’s Kid were there as well. Would the front-running Dude have the early speed to set the table for a big finish from the Romans runner? As is the case in most any bigger grade 1 race, the excitement was thicker than a piece of smoked bologna.
As I soaked up the Southern California sunshine and marveled at the magnificence of Del Mar, a little hillbilly intuition hit me. Yes, Game On Dude was the 6 to 5 favorite and there was a number of other dangerous runners including a fast filly from Chile (Amani), but Dullahan made more cents than any of the prime timers at 5 to 1. Based on my pre-race ciphering, he was like a Farmer’s almanac. Besides, we were had similarities, both guys that shipped in and likes to eat.
The gates opened and Dullahan did just what his conditioner planned. Under jockey Joel Rosario, the big striding three-year old was ninth early, but running in a comfortable style. As expected, the Bob Baffert trained Game On Dude took command on the back stretch and powered into the far turn ahead by 2 lengths. As the field of ten turned for home, Dullahan unleashed the powerful move that made him this hillbilly’s choice. Gobbling up ground like a hungry kid at the dinner table, Dullahan drew even with the front-running Dude inside the race’s final sixteenth of a mile. The front-runner battled to the wire, but could not hold off the onslaught as Dullahan emerged a half length ahead in synthetic track record time (1:59.54).
So my first trip to Del Mar was educational in many ways. I saw some of the wonders of the West Coast, understood completely the significance of the Seaside Oval, and figured out it feels just fantastic to cash a ticket at Old Del Mar. Of course it is always fantastic when you cash, but this one was a little more special for reasons you can’t figure unless you have been to Bing’s brilliance. Almost as jubilant as the winning Donegal Racing team, my first visit to Del Mar was victorious to say the least.