Del Mar's 78th Season Delivers Quality Racing, Strong Results
Bolt d'Oro © Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
Del Mar closed out a stellar 78th summer season Monday that featured competitive cards and full fields throughout its 36-day stand when Bolt d’Oro came roaring through the stretch to capture a thrilling edition of the Grade I Del Mar Futurity.
The track’s handle and attendance numbers were again the tops of any meet in California and – in a run that now stretches back more than a generation – among the top figures of any meeting in America.
Average daily handle moved ahead of last year by 5.1%. Attendance, which started slowly and was down double digits at one point, moved up steadily to the point where average daily attendance was just 1.5% below last summer. Field size rose yet again during the five-days-a-week stand. And safe racing prevailed throughout the summer, a key element in all the positives stated above.
“In many ways,” said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s president Joe Harper, “you might call this one of the very best meets we’ve ever had here.”
Kudos were eligible to be passed around on many fronts, but none more so than to the track’s racing department and its maintenance crews. Executive vice president for racing Tom Robbins and racing secretary David Jerkens presented winning card after winning card throughout the summer. They also worked in concert with the track maintenance crew headed by veteran turf and landscape superintendent, Leif Dickinson, and the track’s new director of track maintenance, Dennis Moore, in ensuring one of the safest racing seasons in track history.
“If you remember the circumstances coming into this meet,” noted Robbins, “there was real concern about how we’d be able to perform. Filling a five-day race week with high-end product is a challenge on any circuit these days. But our horsemen rallied, our racing proved to be top quality and safe and we were able to put on a first-rate show for fans around the country.”
Robbins added that the track’s field size numbers – the ones that most people tie directly to the rise or fall in handle – jumped up this summer from 8.3 per race in 2016 to 8.6, solidly above the national average. Additionally, the track’s “Ship & Win” program drew 109* new runners to the track over the 36 days, almost exactly comparable to the 120 it drew for 39 days last year. “S & W,” which has been in effect at Del Mar since 2011, has now drawn more than 900 horses from out of state. These new runners boost field size, add spice to the handicapping stew and often stick around permanently to become part of the Southern California racing scene.
The track’s wagering pools were robust once again, notably its weekend exotic bets where Saturday and Sunday Pick Four pools routinely topped $1-million. It’s Pick Six pools, enhanced this summer by the addition of the “Jackpot Carryover” element, also showed strong returns as Pick Six pools on non-carryover days increased 34% over 2016.
Total handle for the season projects at $451.5 million for a daily average of $12,542,000, up 5.1% above the 2016 average. Total attendance for the session was 476,628 for an average of 13,240, off 1.5% from the 2016 average.
“We gave up a weekend this year to allow for a safer and stronger start for our horses and horsemen,” stated Del Mar’s executive vice president and chief operating officer Josh Rubinstein. “It proved more than worth it. We sacrificed a few dollars, but we were able to put on one of our best race meets in recent memory. Working with all our partners in this business -- the California Horse Racing Board, the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association – we were able to produce a sporting and entertainment package that sets the tone for everyone in our business.”
Del Mar now looks ahead to its first presentation of the Breeders’ Cup championship races at the seaside track on Friday and Saturday, November 3 and 4. Its fourth fall meet will get underway on Wednesday, November 1 and continue through to Sunday, November 26.
*Corrected from 110