12/05/2016 1:26PM

Del Mar closes meet with increases in handle, field size


DEL MAR, Calif. – Interest from horsemen and bettors from out of state helped fuel the 15-day Del Mar meeting that ended Sunday, as the track showed an increase in daily average handle from last year, largely powered by out-of-state wagering, and many of the significant stakes were won by East Coast-based trainers.

The daily average handle was $10,174,775, an increase of 4.6 percent over last fall. That increase was largely due to a 15.3 percent increase on wagers coming from out of state.

Field size also increased to an average of 8.5 starters per race, the best figure of the three fall meets that have been run here since the closing of Hollywood Park in 2013.

“In terms of the quality of the racing, this was the best meet ever, and the field size was our best ever,” said David Jerkens, Del Mar’s racing secretary. “We’re on the calendar, we’re here to stay, and now people know the drill. It proved to be a solid meet.”

Last fall, Del Mar ran a 20-day meeting. In 2014, Del Mar ran for 15 days, like this year, and that meet, like this year, came on the heels of a Breeders’ Cup that had been held at Santa Anita. The major differences from 2014 to now are that this fall’s meet ended one week after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and the 2014 Hollywood Derby lured a massive crowd of 21,889 owing to the popularity of California Chrome.

In addition, storms hit the area this year on the Saturday and Sunday of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, negatively impacting attendance and handle on two key days.

In 2014, average handle was $10,327,629, so this year’s figure for a similar meeting represents a dip of 1.4 percent from two years ago. Attendance continued to decline. The 2014 average was 9,055 – with California Chrome providing a significant spike – but the 2015 average was 6,180 and this year’s average 5,815, which means a decline of 5.9 percent from 2015 and 35 percent from 2014.

All those numbers, though, are vastly superior to what Hollywood Park was producing in its final years, so the move to Del Mar has represented overall gains in attendance and handle for this time of year on this circuit.

Del Mar obviously has become an attraction for East Coast-based horsemen. Trainer Graham Motion won three stakes during the meet, including the Grade 1 Matriarch on Sunday, while Chad Brown shipped in six runners for the two Grade 1 stakes on closing weekend, finishing second with Roca Rojo in the Matriarch one day after going one-two in the Hollywood Derby with Annals of Time and Beach Patrol.

Next year at the fall meet, Del Mar hosts the Breeders’ Cup for the first time.

“With the Breeders’ Cup next year, a lot of people are coming out here to see what we have to offer,” said Joe Harper, the track’s president and chief executive.

“I think the Breeders’ Cup could be beneficial to our summer meet next year,” said Jerkens, the racing secretary. “Maybe someone will want to get the lay of the land. Maybe someone will look at us more than normal given the fact we do host the Breeders’ Cup.”

Norberto Arroyo Jr. ended up as the leading rider with 12 wins, one more than Drayden Van Dyke and Flavien Prat. Prat missed the final four days of the meet after being injured in a racing accident.

Peter Miller was the runaway winner among trainers with 16 wins, twice as many as Doug O’Neill and Richard Baltas, who finished in a tie for second.