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Horsemen looking for fresh start at Del Mar after Santa Anita crisis

Tod Leonard, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Horse Racing

DEL MAR, Calif. -- In the six years that David Jerkens has been the racing secretary for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, he hadn't quite seen such a traffic jam of horses.

Not on the track, but at the entrance to stables on the backstretch as Del Mar officially opened for business late on Thursday night. By early Friday morning, the long-legged athletes were getting settled in, and they did their first true galloping Saturday morning on the dirt oval.

It was as if Southern California's horsemen couldn't wait to get to Del Mar and put the last few months and tumult of Santa Anita in the rear-view mirror.

"I honestly think a lot of people are anticipating Del Mar," Jerkens said. "It's stronger than I expected. They're looking to hit the refresh button."

A number of the top trainers have yet to take up their usual stall rows at Del Mar as they finish up the nine-day Los Alamitos thoroughbred meet this weekend. Under overcast skies early on Saturday, the workout schedule was light, and there were more horses walking alongside grooms for exercise than being led onto the track to run.

By Monday, the back side will be bustling in anticipation of Wednesday's opening of the 80th summer meeting at Del Mar.

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The beginning of the meet will be watched closely for safe racing after 30 horses died in racing or training in the most recent meeting at Santa Anita Park. The circumstance brought national attention to the safety and treatment of horses and resulted in a number of reforms for the California racing industry.

Del Mar was the safest major track in America in 2018, according to the Jockey Club Equine Injury Database, and that's giving some trainers confidence that a repeat of Santa Anita's difficulties won't be repeated.

"Del Mar's been very safe, knock on wood," said Peter Miller, who doubled up by winning Del Mar's summer and fall training titles in 2018. "Los Alamitos has been safe. This is not a California problem; it's a Santa Anita problem. To lump the tracks together is unfair."

Miller was among several top trainers who shipped their horses east when the troubles grew at Santa Anita, which had to cancel three weeks of racing. Miller said he sent 25 of his 75 horses to Kentucky, where purses have increased at a greater rate than in California.

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