07/22/2009 11:00PM

Del Mar opener has record crowd


DEL MAR, Calif. - Del Mar set an all-time ontrack attendance record of 44,907 for Wednesday's opening-day program, but the handle figures failed to keep pace with 2008.

The attendance figure was higher than the previous record of 44,181 set for the 1996 Pacific Classic, and higher than the 2008 opening-day audience of 43,459, the previous record for opening day. Ontrack attendance for opening day has risen annually since 2005.

"I was pleased with the crowd," track president Joe Harper said. "I thought it would be smaller than it was."

At times, it seems like the crowd was even larger. Lines for food service, bathrooms, and betting stretched 20 deep in most places.

Wednesday's ontrack handle was $3,954,701, while the all-sources handle, including simulcasting and account wagering, reached $13,182,195 from 2008. The all-sources handle was down 5.5 percent, while the ontrack handle was off 1.8 percent.

By comparison, the all-sources handle for the 2007 opening day program was $15.2 million.

Last year, the track ran nine races on opening day, including two divisions of the Oceanside Stakes. This year, there were 10 races, but the Oceanside Stakes was not divided.

"The handle was off," Harper said. "I was talking with a friend in the car business, and he's off 50 percent and we're off five percent. Five percent with 10 races instead of nine races is not a surprise to anyone in this economy.

"If Sea World and [San Diego Wild] Animal Park were showing great numbers, I'd be concerned," he said, mentioning two local tourist attractions. "It's not the case."

Harper said he would wait until next week before doing a more thorough assessment of business trends. The track is not running on Mondays this year and has a 37-day meeting this summer instead of 43 days in recent years.