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Jul 17, 2015

Up the Backstretch: Dirt brings Headley back to Del Mar

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Dirt under one's nails is an indicator of hard work.

Dirt on a racetrack is reason enough for veteran thoroughbred trainer Bruce Headley to head back to Del Mar for the summer season beginning Thursday.

The beautiful and historic track, where the turf meets the surf, has installed a dirt track on its main surface for the first time after eight years of a state-mandated synthetic surface.

"Having a uniform racing surface on the Southern California circuit is very important," said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President and CEO Joe Harper. "The reason we went back to dirt was the same reason we went to synthetics - safety of the horses and riders."

The change to "El Segundo sand" from artificial has brought the 81-year-old Headley to Del Mar with 30 horses in the trainer's barn.

"We hope to run as many as we can, all of them if we can. The track seems very good, the horses are just gliding over it and they're not slipping and sliding, so Mr. (Richard) Tedesco (track superintendent) has done a good job with it," Headley said.

After Del Mar made the switch to synthetic in 2007, Headley cut back the number of starters he sent out. From 1991 through 2005, Headley had won 12 stakes, featuring horses like Bertrando, Tiffany Diamond, Son of a Pistol and Kona Gold.

"I've learned over the years to not get overly emotional and to stay cool. There's no reason to fret if you can't race or bet," Headley said of the last years spent more in the grandstand than the stable area. "I'm glad to be back. This is a great place to be."

However, he wasn't completely without highlights at Del Mar during the synthetic track days. Headley sent out Street Boss for the trainer's fourth Bing Crosby Stakes win in 2008 and M One Rifle won the 2009 Real Good Deal Stakes.

Joe Harper announced the return to dirt when he presented Headley with a Tiffany box full of the stuff on the occasion of Headley's 80th birthday on Valentine's Day in 2014.

Now the only track in California to remain with a synthetic main surface is Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley. Keeneland in Kentucky made the switch back and will be hosting the Breeders' Cup World Championships for the first time in October.

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