07/16/2012 3:08PM

Del Mar bonus program expands

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In 2011, 107 horses started at Del Mar who had made their previous start outside of the state, or even the nation. Those horses were eligible for bonuses that cost the racetrack and the Thoroughbred Owners of California a total of $165,000.

This year, the two groups are willing to spend more – a lot more, if necessary – to cover an expanded bonus program.

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In an effort to boost field size, Del Mar is paying bonuses to the owners of horses who race at the meeting from out of state, provided the horses are not first-time starters and have not raced in California in the last six months.

The bonus, the cost of which is split between the track and the owners’ organization, has two features – a $1,000 bonus for all starters, regardless of the type of races, and a 25-percent bonus to the owners of horses who earn purses in overnight races in their initial starts at the meeting. Last year, the bonus for purses earned in overnight races was 20 percent.

Expectations are for a greater influx of shippers for the meeting that begins on Wednesday. Although racing officials are reluctant to make bold predictions, they are expecting about 150 runners from out of state.

There are four trainers from Texas coming to Del Mar that have not raced on the circuit this year – Cody Autrey, Jack Bruner, Christie Grisham, and Dallas Keen. They are expected to bring about 70 horses. Washington-based trainer Tim McCanna is expected to have starters. In addition, owners and trainers based in California have been active acquiring horses from other circuits or Europe.

Another incentive for all owners and trainers is increased purses. Del Mar has raised purses in most categories for its upcoming meeting, with an added emphasis on increasing prize money for maiden special weight and allowance races.

“We’ve got some new faces,” said the track’s director of racing, Tom Robbins. “The other part of this is trying to encourage local people to take advantage of this. This is advantageous for them.”

In a new venture this year, the track is hosting a horses of racing age auction – the Del Mar Paddock Sale – of 44 horses on Sunday evening. Many of those horses are eligible for the bonuses, and are expected to race at the meeting, which runs through Sept. 5.

Last year, average field size at Del Mar rose from 8.18 runners per race in 2010 to 8.35 runners per race. Robbins said the number of shippers affected the average.

“When you do your analysis, we increased field size,” he said “We tore the numbers apart. How many [shippers] made a five-horse field a six-horse field? It wasn’t a close call.”

If the number of shippers increases this year, Robbins said the track will benefit with larger fields, and, theoretically, higher handle figures. The obligations for bonus payouts may be higher, but that’s a price worth paying, Robbins said.

“Can you afford it if gets to 200 horses? Yes,” he said. “It’s a failure if we go from 107 to 83.”