09/09/2010 2:38PM

Del Mar handle drops but stays steady per race

Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta wins the Clement Hirsch for her 18th victory without a loss.

DEL MAR, Calif. – There was great anxiety before the Del Mar meeting started seven weeks ago, owing to the overall economy and the declining horse population in the California. Yet Del Mar’s business was better than anyone could have expected during the 37-day meeting that ended Wednesday, with daily average attendance increasing, and daily average handle down, but with that decline nearly mirroring the fewer number of races run this summer.
A record crowd of 45,309 on opening day, a 32,536 turnout to see Zenyatta win her 18th straight race in the Clement Hirsch, and a couple of well-attended concerts featuring the bands Weezer and ZZ Top contributed to a daily average attendance of 17,906, an increase of 4.2 percent over last year’s 17,181.
The daily average handle was $12,154,359, a decline of 6.8 percent from last year’s $13,039,998. But Del Mar ran 5.5 percent fewer races this year compared with last year, 325 to 344, so the average handle per race was nearly even.
With the handle being better than originally budgeted, Del Mar announced in a press release that it will have a “significant retroactive purse distribution,” perhaps as much as $500,000.
“When you look around at the challenges that seem pervasive in our industry, and then you see the sort of response we’ve gotten at our meet from our horsemen and our fans, you just know there’s much we’ve got to be grateful for,” said Craig Fravel, Del Mar’s president and general manager.
Del Mar’s Polytrack surface performed well in its fourth season. There were seven horses that were euthanized at this meet – five of those fatal injuries occurred on the main track, four in races, one in the morning. That compares with 13 fatalities last year, 12 on Polytrack.
The surface got better as the meet progressed. There were six fatalities the first 19 days of the meet, five on Polytrack. There was one death the last 18 days of the meet, that in a workout on the turf course. The last death caused by injuries suffered on Polytrack was on Aug. 14.
“Once we got the mix right, this was a much more forgiving surface,” said Joe Harper, Del Mar’s chief executive officer.
This was the first year that the widely respected Richard Tedesco had taken over as the track’s superintendent, replacing Steve Wood. On Wednesday night, Tedesco said he felt more confident in his maintenance program as the meet progressed.
“I know what to do now,” Tedesco said. “It’ll be even better next year.”
“All our stats show how much safer this surface is than dirt,” Harper said. “My long-term memory is pretty good, and we had more complaints about dirt than Polytrack, and more injuries.”
Favorites won at a 31.6-percent rate on Polytrack this summer.
Joel Rosario won the riding title for the second straight year, and did so this time in dramatic fashion, winning the final race of the meet with a last-to-first rush to break a tie atop the standings with Rafael Bejarano, 57-56. Rosario entered closing day one win behind Bejarano, but won four races on the 10-race card to Bejarano’s two.
“It was pretty exciting,” Rosario said of the compelling closing-day battle with Bejarano. “I got a little lucky today.”
Bejarano was in an accident early in the card on Aug. 29 and missed the remainder of the program. Two of his subsequent mounts won with replacement riders. “I can’t complain,” Bejarano said. “I’m happy. If it’s meant for you, it’s for you.”
Doug O’Neill won the trainers’ title with 31 wins, nine more than John Sadler, the leading trainer the two previous seasons here. This was the fourth title for O’Neill in the last seven seasons at Del Mar.