09/05/2013 2:18PM

Del Mar meet ends with business increases, injury declines


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DEL MAR, Calif. – The champagne was flowing in the office of Joe Harper, Del Mar’s chief executive officer and president, after the races on closing day Wednesday, for there was much to celebrate following a 37-day meeting that was a roaring success from just about every measurement.

Ontrack handle was up, overall handle was up, field size was up, attendance was up, and catastrophic injuries were down.

“It was a dream meet, it really was,” Harper said. “In the 35 years I’ve been doing this, we’ve had few meets like this one.”

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Del Mar averaged $2,452,080 a day in ontrack handle, an increase of 3.7 percent from a year ago. All-sources handle averaged $13,036,132, an increase of 5.2 percent from 2012. Attendance was up fractionally, to an average of 17,656 from last year’s 17,623. Field size averaged nearly 8.8 runners per race, up from last year’s 8.66.

Harper cited the aggressive marketing of Del Mar, including a regular diet of concerts, as a reason the track has such wide appeal.

“There are a lot of reasons people come out here to see racing,” he said.

Four horses were euthanized owing to injuries suffered at Del Mar, three on Polytrack – two in the morning, one during racing – and one on the turf course. The four deaths were the fewest at Del Mar since at least 1997. There were nine deaths last year, including seven on Polytrack, and 12 in 2011, eight of those coming on Polytrack. The synthetic Polytrack surface was installed in 2007, following a disastrous 2006 season in which 18 horses were euthanized, 14 on the main track, which then was dirt.

Richard Tedesco, the current track superintendent at Del Mar, took over here in 2010.

“Richard Tedesco and his crew did an amazing job,” Harper said. “It was hard getting a squawk out of anyone on the backstretch.”

Despite the consistency with which Tedesco has maintained Polytrack, Harper floated the possibility of Del Mar switching back to a dirt surface at some point.

“We have to take a hard look at where we go with the track, see if we’re destined to return to dirt at some point,” he said. “We’re starting to see rocks come up where rocks shouldn’t be. There will have to be significant maintenance done before next year.”

Harper said “no” when asked if a main dirt track would return by 2014.

“For a variety of reasons,” he said. “Cost, permits, the fact we’re doing the turf course.”

Del Mar is widening its turf course, so that by next year it can accommodate field sizes of 14, which is necessary for the track to at some point to host the Breeders’ Cup.

Del Mar, like all of Southern California, is now heading into uncharted waters. With the imminent closure of Betfair Hollywood Park for racing at the end of this year, Del Mar will pick up extra dates beginning in 2014, and will have a four-week meeting in the fall, beginning approximately two months after the summer season ends.

“We’ve identified the things we need to do to winterize the track,” Harper said. “On the backstretch, we have people living in tack rooms. The rooms will be heated. We have to take care of them.”