Without handicapping Race 9 on Friday at Del Mar, one could say that the classy latecomer of Peter Euton elated is an opening day single. Who needs PP when you have tide tables?
This, coupled with the tradition of local riders.
If you’ve never heard it before, or if you’ve heard it many times but always forget it, here’s the crippling angle that sets Del Mar apart from any other North American track.
“When it’s high tide they say the track is late or fair,” said a well-respected horse player who wishes to remain anonymous. “And when it’s low tide, it’s the speed that helps. These are track wetness and course fatigue.
When Bing Crosby sang “Where the Surf Meets the Turf,” he wasn’t kidding. A beach lover’s paradise, the home stretch of Del Mar is about a yard from the beach. And, of course, the Pacific Ocean.
Although not as poetic, Crosby could have sung “where the dirt meets the sea”. A romantic line on the moon would also have been appropriate, since the moon is to blame. Its gravitational pull generates a tidal force, which causes water to swell on the side closest to the moon and on the side farthest from the moon. These bulges of water are high tides. And high tides mean closures.
“It’s complete crap. For me, things are circumstantial,” the anonymous player continued. “Everyone embraces the results and not the circumstances that led to the results. If you look at Breeder’s Cup Saturday last year, the tides were really high and it should have been this late dominant run, but it wasn’t. The best horses won.
“There are these little pockets of water and these lagoons all around the area, and the Pacific tides affect all of these bodies of water. Supposedly the lagoon goes under the runway. I know it bypasses it and that it’s close, but just say it is. When it’s high tide, they think the water going under the track starts to seep in and affects the moisture in the track.
When you say it like that, it sounds pretty believable. Maybe verifiable.
Enter world-renowned winemaker Matt Dees, the closest thing to an expert on this esoteric matter I could find. With a degree in soil science and a 20-year career growing grapes along the sandy shores of California, Dees is the head winemaker at Jonata Vineyards. Its harvests are dependent on the water levels which nourish the deep roots of its Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot vines.
“The moon makes it all possible,” Dees said Tuesday. “We see the tide changes every day. The ebb and flow is no joke. The soils and the wines of the vineyards are strongly affected by the rise and fall of the waters due to the tides. I’m not sure about the trail conditions, but it makes sense to me.
The tides affect the California wines that many will drink in Del Mar during this meet, but will horse players also order a glass of the Kool-Aid Tide Theory?
Many riders have created mint build tickets around the track biases. Their stories are out there, causing Pavlovian salvation for believers and mocking those who don’t. The idea that you can throw a lot of runners off a lot based on their running style because the track supposedly has a “golden rail” or “center track expressway” is too alluring so that many ignore it.
Del Mar’s track bias certainly came into play for horse player and Southern California native Tyler Hoffman. A five-time NHC qualifier, cashed in 2017 and 2020 Santa Anita Derby Challenge champion, Hoffman on Tuesday offered valuable insight for those looking to sip the Kool-Aid tide and those who aren’t.
“I’ve heard a lot about tidal theory,” Hoffman said. “I’m not completely convinced, but I’ve heard a lot of people subscribe to it. They strongly believe in it. For my part, I am still on the fence about this.
“For me, it’s more the weather. When it’s cooler, the speed seems to stick a bit more. This is why often on Friday afternoon maps (which start at 4:00 p.m. PDT) you’ll see the speed a bit better than on days with a 2:00 p.m. start. cooler Del Mar seems to favor lead runners over warmer days it seems to favor more offbeat types.
So, another theory to add to the arsenal: cooler weather in Del Mar creates a tighter, faster track.
“When I think of the true biases of Del Mar, I think of the track profile in general,” Hoffman said. “You want to be in the middle of the dirt road the final 3/8 mile. You don’t want to be snagged on the spinning rail to get home. It seems like you get caught up in something outside almost every time. In Del Mar, I always want my horse to be 3, 4 or 5 paths from the rail, in the middle of the stretch.
Del Mar has a one-mile main track oval. Something to consider, regardless of bias, is the length of the stretch stroke. At 919 feet, it is one of the shortest of any race track in North America. And as Gulfstream Park riders know, it can help top speed. As soon as you reach the top of the stretch you are almost home. Many farmers need immediate land to build their momentum, but they won’t find it in Del Mar.
And the grass? The tidal theorists I spoke with said the grass course is not affected like the land. But something to consider are the sharp turns. Some horses run better in a straight line and some horses handle turns better than others. A horse-to-course angle to keep in mind: Horses that have won on the turf at Del Mar may seem out of shape to race on other tracks, but as soon as they come back, they relish the tight turns and run back to their earlier efforts in Del Mar.
And in tight corners, it helps to be on the inside. Centrifugal force comes into play more in tight turns as it pushes the horses away from the rail, causing loss of ground.
“Inside post positions on the turf are very good in Del Mar,” Hoffman said. “And when the rails are at 0 feet, it’s really hard to go wire to wire.”
Using horse racing nationit is Trend Tracker, the data support Hoffman’s ideas. When the rail is set at 30 feet, 40% of the winners of the last 47 road races have come from positions 1-3; at 24 feet, 43% of the last 21 races; and at 12 feet, 33% of the last 54 runs. In the past 98 races on turf without a temporary rail, about a third of the winners have each come from the 1-3, 4-6 and 7+ positions. Only 17% won after running 0-1 lengths behind on the first call.
In the past 117 turf sprint races, 53% have been won by the lead runners, 50% moving from positions 1-3 and 35% from positions 4-6. No holy grail at high tide, but knowing these inside position trends on the Del Mar grass course should help you at least score big for this encounter.
As for tides, I’ve spoken with horse players who have studied it but see no correlation and others who swear by it, successfully using tide tables to predict how the track would play. But no believer wanted to be identified by name.
If you’re a believer or willing to get into tidal tactics, handicappers should look for closers to win as the card progresses on opening day. The tides will rise, reaching high tide at 6:00 p.m. PDT, 9:00 p.m. EDT. Exactly when Exaulted will be loaded into the gate.