08/13/2017 3:18PM

Del Mar handle and field size up, but attendance down vs. 2016

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Del Mar reached the halfway point of its summer meeting over the weekend with a gain in handle and field sizes, but a decline in attendance compared to the same period in 2016.

All-sources handle, including on-track, simulcast and account wagering sources, showed an increase of 7.2 percent through Saturday, the 19th day of the 36-day season, according to track Chief Operating Officer Josh Rubinstein.

Ontrack handle increased 4.9 percent, while out-of-state handle rose 10.1 percent.

The 2016 summer meeting had a decline in all-sources handle of 1.2 percent.

Ontrack attendance was down 2.9 percent, but Rubinstein said he and other track officials are optimistic much of that can be regained in coming weeks through big racing days and promotions.

The summer meeting runs through Sept. 4. It is three racing days and one weekend shorter than the 39-day summer meeting of 2016.

The average runners per race figure has shown growth over last year. Through Saturday, fields averaged 8.41 runners per race compared to 8.05 through the first half of 2016. The entire 2016 summer had an average field size of 8.31 runners.

The meeting has had a favorable safety record. Through Saturday there were two fatalities caused by injuries during racing and none caused by training. The 2016 season was plagued by 17 fatalities, compared to nine in the summer of 2015.

“We’re really pleased at the halfway point,” Rubinstein said. “Going in, we spent considerable resources, financially and time, on safety. The results have been positive.”

The increase in handle has helped to reduce a substantial deficit in the purse pool, which led to a cut in purses in 2016. This year’s meeting has the same purse levels as the final three weeks of the 2016 summer meeting and are expected to be uniform through the season.

Rubinstein declined to state the purse deficit, other than to say “it’s a significant number and it’s a seven-figure number.”

Reviews of the racing surface have been mixed. Some trainers say they are content with the surface, while others say the track is too deep and loose, causing some horses to sustain soft-tissue injuries.

“I don’t think there is a track invented that will please everyone,” Rubinstein said. “Is it slower? Yes. Is it softer? Yes.”

Dennis Moore took the job as director of track maintenance here this year. He is a consultant on racetrack surfaces at Los Alamitos and Santa Anita.