Can New Kids On The Block Challenge Prat’s Del Mar Dominance?

In the past two summer seasons at Del Mar the jockey title has been a duel between Flavien Prat and Drayden Van Dyke with each rider prevailing once.

It could happen again.

But Derek Lawson, agent for defending champion Prat, has noted the emergence of some ambitious newcomers on the Southern California circuit and cautions against jumping to a two-man conclusion for the 2020 season that starts today.

“It will be extremely competitive,” Lawson said by telephone Thursday. “I hope we (Prat) do well enough to win. But it’s not a slam dunk for anybody.”

Prat tied Rafael Bejarano for the 2016 summer title with 38 wins, led the 2017 meet outright over Bejarano with 35, relinquished the crown to Van Dyke in 2018 by a 42-37 margin and grabbed it back, 42-32, over Van Dyke a year ago.

Prat, a native of Melun, France, who turns 28 next month, has maintained his Southern California circuit dominance and high national profile following a 2019 season in which he won the Kentucky Derby, via disqualification, and a meet-leading 10 stakes victories during the Del Mar summer. He won the Santa Anita winter-spring riding championship with 90 wins over the course of the COVID-interrupted December-to-June season.

Through Thursday, Prat ranks seventh nationally with 97 wins from 372 starters (26 percent) and purse earnings of more than $5.3 million according to Equibase statistics.

To stay at the top this summer, however, Prat will have to fend off a foursome that has put up some impressive 2020 numbers as well. A rundown, with statistics in parenthesis and comments from Lawson.

Abel Cedillo—(No. 14 nationally, 61 wins from 419 starts, 15%, $3.6 million in purses). “He’s proven that the move down from Northern California last year was the right one for him and his family and he’s in a position to continue to make his mark.”

Van Dyke – (No. 25, 35 for 212, 17 percent, $2.6 million). “He’s always going to be at or near the top, especially here. He rides for Bob Baffert and will be on a lot of the very good 2-year-olds Bob breaks out here every year.”

Umberto Rispoli – (No. 27, 50 for 269, 19 percent, $2.5 million). The Italian champion, 31, a veteran of racing in Europe, Japan and Hong Kong decided to come to America and race at Santa Anita last winter. “He’s a very good rider, obviously, and he adds an international flavor – with Flavien from France and him from Italy – to the meet.”

Juan Hernandez – (No. 31, 134 for 444, 30 percent, $2.2 million). “He follows the path of Cedillo last year and if you look at the statistics, he’s No. 1 in the country for wins. So, obviously, he knows how to get the job done.”

Forty-two wins secured the title the last two years. Lawson, prone to set goals, hopes to book Prat on 50 winners this summer. He realizes it’s a high bar.

“It’s a shorter season and there won’t be fans in the stands,” Lawson pointed out. “That’s the same for everybody. The disadvantage for us could be going out of town, but I’m not looking to do it very often. It’s going to take hard work, staying focused and some luck no matter what.”

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