09/06/2012 11:25AM

Del Mar ends meeting with sharp increase in handle and record purse distribution


DEL MAR, Calif. – Del Mar appropriately turned its 75th anniversary meeting into one giant diamond jubilee. Track officials announced a significant increase in handle for the 37-day meeting, which ended Wednesday and which will result in a retroactive purse increase to an estimated $687,755 per day, a Del Mar record.

Overall handle was up a whopping 8.8 percent from last year, to a daily average of $12,651,175, and ontrack handle increased 13.3 percent, to an average of $2,364,187. Handle from account wagering soared 34.1 percent, to an average of $1,810,215 from last year’s $1,349,170.

Much of that increase was fueled by pick six carryovers, which occurred a startling 15 out of the 36 times it was possible, and which was no doubt generated by a sizeable increase in field size, to an average of 8.7 runners per race from last year’s 8.4.

“It was one of those dream meets that come along very seldom,” said Joe Harper, the president and chief executive officer of Del Mar. “It was a very smooth meet. The numbers are certainly good. These are the biggest purses we’ve ever had.”

Harper gave much of the credit to Tom Robbins, the track’s executive vice president for racing and racing secretary, who has seen field size increase the past two seasons in large part because of a Ship and Win program that offers bonus money to horsemen who bring in runners from out of state. There were 107 horses who took advantage of the program in 2011, and that went up to 137 this year.

“That bonus deal really worked,” Harper said. “Field size was up, the number of races was up.”

There were 328 races this year, compared to last year’s 323, including 11-race cards all three days of the Labor Day weekend owing to demand at the entry box.

“Tom Robbins gets a star next to his name,” Harper said.

Del Mar also conducted a sale of race-ready horses in the paddock following the races on July 22, and that brought in additional runners, including Nechez Dawn, who subsequently won the Daisycutter Handicap.

Average daily ontrack attendance was down fractionally, by 1.2 percent, to an average of 17,623 per day, still tops among all tracks in California.

Harper joked that what worried his staff late in the meet was the creeping realization that this blockbuster meet would be hard to top next year.

“That was the biggest gripe I got from my staff the last week of the meet,” he said. “This was a great year to remember.”

Del Mar could be making even more memories by the middle part of this decade. Harper said Del Mar intends to re-sod and widen its turf course after the 2013 season, a clear indication that Del Mar intends to finally make a run at the Breeders’ Cup. The current turf course needs to be widened to accommodate 14 runners, which the Breeders’ Cup requires.

“At least now we’ll be able to say we’re ready,” Harper said.

Harper said he also could envision Del Mar running a fall meet in the future, when Hollywood Park closes. “Five weeks, three days a week, encompassing the dates of the Breeders’ Cup,” he said.