Injuries Put Del Mar Surface Under Microscope

The unusual concentration of catastrophic and career-ending injuries during the opening weeks of the current Del Mar meet hit home in dramatic fashion Aug. 13 when Prosperous Bid, a 3-year-old son of Mr. Prospector owned by John and Betty Mabee and trained by Bob Baffert, fractured both sesamoids of his left foreleg when he was pulled up after a morning workout.

John Mabee, chairman of the board of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, once called Prosperous Bid "the best horse I ever bred" and considered the colt his top prospect for the classics earlier this year. The half-brother to multimillionaire Best Pal won his first two races and was third to Artax and Real Quiet in the San Felipe Handicap (gr. II). In his most recent start, Prosperous Bid was third at Del Mar on Aug. 2.

"That will happen when a horse is gearing down after a work sometimes," Baffert said. "They're not striding out the same as when they're at full speed, and they'll come down wrong. Do that on a track that's deep like this one and bad things can happen."

Prosperous Bid was scheduled for surgery at the Equine Medical Center near Los Alamitos racetrack on Aug. 17. According to Dr. Vince Baker, Baffert's attending vet, the prognosis for recovery was good. "He can be saved for stud," Baker said.

On the same day Prosperous Bid was injured, another horse was euthanitized after a morning workout, and that afternoon the 3-year-old colt Prose suffered multiple leg injuries in a turf event he won. Prose, claimed out of the race for $80,000 by trainer Doug Peterson, had started 11 times and won three of six U.S. starts.

"I've never had a horse break down so bad and act so good," Peterson said the next day. "He's a pretty tough colt, and it looks like he'll live."

Through the racing of Aug. 16, there were nine reported fatalities during the meet, which began on July 22. Eight were euthanitized following catastrophic injuries brought about by racing or training, and a ninth died from a severe internal hemorrhage. The inordinate cluster of fatalities spawned a heavy round of local and national press scrutiny on the summer meet.

Much of the criticism has come down on the dirt surface, considered by many horsemen to be deep, in some stretches uneven, and drastically different from the one at Hollywood Park, where a new, firmly-packed sand course with inorganic stabilizers was used for the first time this year. The large population of horses in training at Del Mar—1,800—also is blamed.

"You'd better work your horse no more than 10 minutes after the renovation breaks, or you'll be working on a plowed field," trainer Ed Gregson said.

"I'm not saying that the track isn't partially to blame—it's part of the equation," Del Mar president Joe Harper said. "We got a little later start on the renovation before the meet because, frankly, I was waiting to see if the sports grids they added to Hollywood Park's surface would work. By the time we decided not to go that way, we didn't have quite as much time to get the track where we wanted it. I think it's better now."

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