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by Steve Andersen of

Turf racing front and center at Del Mar fall meet - HORSE RACING, The 15-day Del Mar autumn meeting begins Friday and offers four weeks of racing at the popular San Diego County venue, building toward an outstanding series of stakes on Thanksgiving weekend. Beginning Friday and continuing through closing day, racing fans can expect plenty of action on the turf course.

There are three turf races on Friday’s eight-race program. Of the 14 stakes through the meeting, nine are on turf, including seven graded stakes on grass in the final four days, from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.

There are two Grade 1 races worth $300,000 on the final weekend – the Hollywood Derby at 1 1/8 miles on Nov. 30 and the Matriarch Stakes at a mile for fillies and mares on Dec. 1.

Racing secretary David Jerkens is banking on a clear November to allow for extensive use of the turf course, where field size is typically stronger than on the main track.

“If it stays dry, we’ll run as many four grass races a day, similar to what I did last year,” he said.

There were 136 races at the 2018 autumn meeting, with 52 on turf. Overall field size averaged 7.7 runners per race, the lowest since the autumn meeting began in 2014. Average field size on turf at the 2018 autumn meeting was a more robust 8.7 runners per race.

After the Del Mar autumn meeting, there is no turf racing in Southern California until Santa Anita opens its winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26. Los Alamitos has a two-week winter meeting in December, but does not have a turf course.

“There is an urgency to get a start at Del Mar, given where we are on the calendar,” Jerkens said.

The autumn meeting, which will operate on a Thursday-through-Sunday basis after this week, has a remarkably different vibe than the Del Mar summer meeting. The crowds are smaller and the weather is cooler. Still, many of the horses, jockeys, and trainers are familiar names to racing fans.

For the upcoming autumn meeting, overnight purses have been slightly reduced. For example, maiden special weight purses have declined by $1,000 from last fall, to $52,000. A $25,000 claimer for fillies and mares at a mile on turf will be worth $30,000 compared to $32,000 last year.

The track had noticeable declines in attendance and handle at the summer meeting.

This season, there may be fewer races than at past autumn meetings. Del Mar – as well as Los Alamitos and Santa Anita – faces a reduction in the inventory of available horses following a circuit-wide policy enacted in June to review the race, training, and medical records of horses entered to race. The review process, conducted by a panel of stewards and veterinarians, was put in place after a series of equine fatalities at Santa Anita earlier this year.

Jerkens said there are approximately 2,450 horses in training in Southern California at the three tracks and the San Luis Rey Downs training center in San Diego County. The figure was closer to 2,750 at this time last year, he said.

“The numbers are what they are,” he said in a recent interview. “That’s the reality that we’re facing.”

During the summer meeting, Del Mar ran the same 36-day schedule as in recent years, but had 21 fewer races. Field size fell from 8.7 runners per race at the 2018 summer meeting to 8 runners per race this year.

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