09/08/2011 11:00AM

Del Mar officials pleased with 2011 meet despite slight drops in handle attendance

Shigeki Kikkawa
Acclamation's victories in the Eddie Read and Pacific Classic earned him Horse of the Meet honors.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Del Mar’s meet ended its 37-day run on Wednesday with slight dips in both handle and attendance, but the mood of Joe Harper, Del Mar’s president, was decidedly upbeat, and appropriately so, because by any objective measure, this summer’s meet was a success.

On a circuit where racing is now routinely conducted four days a week at both Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, Del Mar raced five days a week and showed an increase in field size compared with last year. Overnight purses, the highest in the country for a summer meet, will be enhanced by a retroactive purse bonus totaling $1.5 million, owing to business numbers that were better than projected.

And, for the first time since Polytrack was installed prior to the 2007 meeting, the synthetic surface was not a source of constant criticism, which has to be due to the competent supervision of superintendent Richard Tedesco.

“Richard Tedesco went to school on this last year. I think he’s got a really good handle on it,” Harper said. “This track is different from dirt. It’s different from other Polytracks. He saw what was going wrong and adjusted. It’s now fairly consistent from morning to afternoon. A lot of trainers don’t like it, period, because it’s just not dirt. But I was pleased with its consistency.”

That consistency had to contribute to handle numbers that were above projections, and resulted in the purse underpayment. All-sources handle averaged $11,628,660, a drop of 4.2 percent from last year, better than the industry standard this year. In addition to the main track’s consistency, the handle figures were enhanced by larger fields, an average of 8.4 runners per race, better than last year’s average of 8.2, and certainly notable in that Del Mar had 25 percent more racing per week than Hollywood Park, the previous meet on this circuit.

“I was surprised by the amount of horses,” said Harper, who said that before the meet started, “I did think we’d have a lot of trouble filling races at the end of the meet.”

Harper attributed some of the field size increase to a Ship and Win program – conducted in conjunction with the Thoroughbred Owners of California – that encouraged horsemen from out of state to dip their toe in the water here. It was a success, resulting in a trainer such as Vann Belvoir, who is based in Washington state, deciding to keep a sizeable presence on this circuit.

“As far as meetings go, this was a pretty smooth one,” said Harper, who has been here 36 years. “There were not a lot of bumps in the road, and the things we did worked. It’s been a really terrific meeting.”

Claiming activity was at a frenzy, with 246 claims totaling more than $5.9 million, dwarfing last year’s 141 claims for $3.6 million, a sign of potentially renewed health in California racing.

Ontrack attendance was down insignificantly, just 0.3 percent, to an average of 17,844 fans per day. The track did have its biggest day ever on opening day, when 46,588 stuffed themselves into the facility.

Joel Rosario was the leading rider for the third straight year, the first time that has happened since Bill Shoemaker won six straight titles ending in 1954. Mike Mitchell was the leading trainer, edging John Sadler, 25-24. It was Mitchell’s seventh title here, but his first since 1996.

Acclamation, the Eddie Read and Pacific Classic winner, was unanimously voted horse of the meet by media members.