09/04/2014 3:08PM

Del Mar meet ends with green turf course, lower numbers


DEL MAR, Calif. – In years past, when Del Mar got down to the end of its season, the infield turf course often looked brown and barren. So, it was the great irony of this most tumultuous of Del Mar seasons that, when the 36-day meet ended Wednesday, a course that had been the source of so much attention and controversy looked better than ever – green, lush, and inviting.

The meeting could be divided into two halves. The beginning was one gut punch after another, with catastrophic injuries that caused two suspensions of turf racing, the second suspension for more than a week. Del Mar was struggling, and executives were fielding calls from fans who had been misinformed that the track itself – not just the turf course – was closed.

“That took a while to play itself out,” Joe Harper, the track’s president and chief executive, said after the final race Wednesday night.

Yet Del Mar did rebound with a sensational second half of the season that featured a bravura performance by Shared Belief in the Pacific Classic and safe, exciting turf racing. But the first-half setbacks could not be entirely overcome by the meet’s end, and Del Mar ended up with drops in both handle and attendance compared with a very successful 2013 season.

Overall handle was down 7.3 percent, to a daily average of $12,087,844. Ontrack handle was down 11.3 percent, to $2,174,588, a figure Harper attributed largely to several high-volume players not being here for at least part of the season.

Attendance also fell, by 6.3 percent to an average of 16,535 per day.

Daily average purses were a robust $723,000, and despite the suspension of turf-course racing, field size was similar to last year, an average of 8.8 horses per race. The track’s Ship and Win program was an unassailable success, luring 187 runners, a 26 percent increase from 2013. Top barns such as those of trainers Mark Casse, Keith Desormeaux, and Mike Stidham came here and were well represented, each winning stakes.

Harper acknowledged that the meet was a roller coaster but said, “The coaster was going up the last month, at least as far as the turf course is concerned.”

“Despite the slight downturns in attendance and handle, it was a pretty good meet,” Harper said. “The turf course, for all the attention it got early in the meet, is one of the best we’ve seen. I’ve never seen the course look like it does now after a summer of racing, and hopefully it’ll be even better in the fall.”

Del Mar will race 15 days this fall from Nov. 7-30, picking up some of the dates formerly held by Hollywood Park. Del Mar, for instance, will retain much of Hollywood Park’s autumn turf festival, with races like the Hollywood Derby and Matriarch Stakes, both Grade 1 races.

So, the turf course will again be a focal point here. Overall this summer, there were 16 equine deaths, counting racing and training, from injuries or sudden cardiac failure, on turf and Polytrack. The cluster of fatalities on the new turf course during the first two weeks of the meet still perplexes Harper.

“The jockeys were saying it was fine, which is what made it frustrating,” Harper said.

Asked if he thought a contributing factor was the condition of horses running on the course, Harper said he might want to see enhanced prerace exams for horses dropping in class or whose form looks suspicious.

“I’d take the blame if we thought the course was unsafe, but the racing-board investigators, everybody, gave it high marks,” he said. “Everybody wants to run here. Maybe taking a horse out of his stall and jogging him in the prerace exam isn’t enough. Maybe we need to find new things to inspect with.”

The fall meeting will be the final one here with Polytrack on the main track. A new dirt surface will be installed following the meet.

Rafael Bejarano ended up the meet’s leading rider, with 42 wins. It was his third straight title here. Jerry Hollendorfer and Peter Miller tied for the trainers’ title with 20 wins each. Miller won outright in 2012. This was the first tie for the trainers’ title since 1990, when there was a three-way dead heat between D. Wayne Lukas, Richard Mandella, and Bill Spawr.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Handle will keep going down. As longs as the game is fixed
Lefty More than 1 year ago
a figure Harper attributed largely to several high-volume players not being here for at least part of the season. Horse Racing needs to start trying to appeal to everyone. You can't depend on so called 'high volume' players. Horse Racing needs new blood! Depending on so called 'Whales' is silly!
tim blake More than 1 year ago
The on-track high volume bettors that weren't there must have finally found out that their money was being funneled to the high-volume ADW bettors to whom the tracks now cater. I don't see how any racetracks could expect anything other than decline when they have sold out their on-track customers. It's the same reason so many stores and malls are closing around the country...people are getting everything cheaper online. Except the racetracks are doing it to themselves; driving away their local and loyal customers to keep their online customers happy.
Walter More than 1 year ago
Too bad it took several horse fatalities and a few jock injuries for them to see that a putting green is not a turf course! So glad to see they watered and grew the course to be actual grass. If they keep it the same in Nov. the Autumn Turf Festival will be a nice event.
Lawrence MacSelwiney More than 1 year ago
Harper will never acknowledge that the turf course was unsafe. He just refers to the comments of jocks and trainers who say its fine. A putting green was giving it a compliment Walter. It was a bowling ally spray painted green. Two deep aeration and some time to grow and they now have a great turf course.
J Vette More than 1 year ago
Naturally racing is down, what do you expect ??? They have a track where no one can handicap, even the trainers say they don't know how to train a horse at Del Mar, It's a joke & the SUITS keep on saying how good the meet was...lol... Racing has become a LOTTERY play in today's world.... all they are hoping for is a carryover & what message does that send ??? Carryovers mean NO ONE out of the thousands of players & of the thousands of combos played, you can't pick 6 winners !!!! Racing has been sending this message for decades now & it's finally catching up with them. PLUS all of the CHEATING going on & the CROOKED stewards (Gulfstream especially with the Rainbow 6 ruling), anybody except the EX-PLAYERS wonder why racing is going down for the count ???
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
HayesLance More than 1 year ago
Hey J. Sounds like you had a tough time handicapping? Not everyone had such a bad meet
tim blake More than 1 year ago
i made money at del mar this year but felt like I got lucky, not like I mastered the handicapping. I agree with pretty much everything J. said. Anytime someone mentions cheating or corruption, people are quick to say it must be sour grapes because they lost money. You don't have to lose money to be able to see the problems. It's just that anyone paying close enough attention to notice is usually either losing money or making money. And the people making money are usually part of the problem.
J Vette More than 1 year ago
No, this i wrote was not about me winning or losing money, i basically only played Saturdays & i am a 4-5 day a week player,, & to be honest, i probably ended up winning a few hundred, This was about why racing is being flushed away... The SUITS are the main cause. Has anyone seen what the Card rooms have done to their image ???
mikey More than 1 year ago
Down down down is there a trend in racing.When tracks like Del Mar are off what is the chance for the other tracks without slots.Racing is in big trouble and the no arm bandits are the only way to help them.Sad Very Sad
racetrackandy More than 1 year ago
Del Mar was down 38 million on races run at Del Mar with 3 less races for the meet. That's close to 10% down.