09/04/2008 12:00AM

Business takes expected drop


DEL MAR, Calif. - Owing to the economy in general and malaise in the tourist industry in the San Diego area specifically, Del Mar officials before the meet expected a drop in business this year, and they were right. But the overall numbers were still encouraging, with the track recording its sixth-highest handle in history, perhaps an indication that bettors were more willing to embrace a Polytrack surface that was far more consistent this year than during its inaugural season of 2007.

The all-sources handle on Del Mar's races for its 43-day meeting, which closed Wednesday, was $559,076,029, an average of a little more than $13 million per day, a decrease of 7 percent from a meeting of the same length a year ago. Ontrack attendance also fell, to an average of 16,003, a drop of 4.3 percent from last year.

"All in all, this was one of the smoother meets we've had," Joe Harper, the track's president, chief executive officer, and general manager, said Wednesday. "The track played much more fairly. We learned a lot - when to water, how much to water."

Last year, the Polytrack surface was not watered, and was inconsistent from morning to afternoon. This year, the combination of watering and a generally cooler climate helped the surface retain its consistency and produce race times more in line with dirt tracks.

There were eight horses who were euthanized as a result of their injuries at Del Mar this year, five from races, three from training in the morning. There were 11 horses euthanized last year, but five of those horses suffered catastrophic injuries on the turf course. This year, no horses were fatally injured on the turf, but there were two more fatalities (8-6) on Polytrack than a year ago.

Field size averaged 8.6 starters per race, identical to last year. There was a noticeable increase the final 10 days of the meet, with fields averaging 9.5 starters per race.

Favorites won on Polytrack at a 30-percent clip. On turf, favorites had a staggering strike rate of 44.3 percent.

Harper, as he has stated many times in recent years, said Del Mar planned to widen its turf course in order to be considered a possible host site for the Breeders' Cup. Harper said Del Mar was "looking at 2012" as a possible year to play host to the Breeders' Cup.

Rafael Bejarano led the jockey standings with 45 wins, nine more than Joel Rosario. John Sadler led all trainers with 31 wins, 12 more than Mike Mitchell. Gary and Cecil Barber won 14 races, a single-season record for owners.