Updated on 07/21/2012 11:52AM

Del Mar opener sets record for attendance


DEL MAR, Calif. – Opening day at Del Mar has become the event of the summer in San Diego County. Not the sporting event of the summer. The event, period.

Despite premium prices for admission to the turf club, a stiff $40 charge for valet parking, $9 for a can of beer, double digits for a margarita, long lines to bet, eat, drink, and for the bathroom, and a lagging economy, fans just keep coming because opening day at Del Mar has taken on the aura as the place to be. Del Mar’s slogan is “Cool as ever.” Boy, was it ever on Wednesday.

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The crowd on Wednesday, announced as 47,339, set a single-day record for the track, eclipsing the record set last year of 46,588, also on opening day.

This marked the eighth straight year that the attendance on opening day was more than 40,000, and the eighth straight year it went up from the previous opening day.

“Opening day is a phenomenon that’s hard to describe,” Joe Harper, Del Mar’s president and chief executive officer, said as dusk fell on Wednesday night. “It’s a crazy day. It’s taken on a life of its own.

“It’s fantastic, anytime you can get over 40,000 people at any racetrack, anywhere. It’s a real plum for us.”

The overall handle was $14,176,153, an increase of 6.8 percent from last year’s $13,268,662. Ontrack, the handle was $4,288,057, which works out to a measly per capita of $90. But considering the premium pricing for turf club admission, plus the margins on food and beverage, Del Mar made out quite all right.

Operationally, “It was a fairly smooth day, for that many people,” Harper said.

“There’s no soft openings at Del Mar,” he said. “It was a party.”

It was not all roses and unicorns, though. The first equine fatality of the meet occurred in the day’s fifth race, when Playful Council, a 2-year-old ridgling, suffered a catastrophic leg fracture an eighth of a mile into the five-furlong race and had to be euthanized.

Del Mar’s main track surface is Polytrack, which was installed in 2007. Since then, Santa Anita has ended its experiment with a synthetic surface and has returned to dirt. Hollywood Park still has its synthetic Cushion Track, but that surface plays very much like dirt. As a result, Del Mar is as different from the Los Angeles-area tracks as Keeneland is from Churchill Downs.

Harper said the feedback he had received thus far on the surface was good “from the trainers I’ve talked to,” though he joked, “I can avoid some trainers.”

Rafael Bejarano and Martin Garcia, each of whom won divisions of the featured Oceanside Stakes, were the only riders to double on the card. Bejarano won the first division of the Oceanside with Midnight Crooner, while Garcia scored in the second division with My Best Brother.

Jockey Chantal Sutherland, the focal point of Del Mar’s marketing campaign, won the day’s first race. She said the noise from the packed grandstand could be heard as far away as the three-eighths pole.

“It was like an echo, and then – boom,” she said.

Marcus Semona More than 1 year ago
I was there =). Took an hour to get from Lomas Santa Fe exit to Del Mar parking lot.
mike More than 1 year ago
Im guessing there's not a lot of true racing fans out of that 47k. Looks more like a bunch of people at a fashion show or something.
DrSmoke120 More than 1 year ago
Yes, if only the "true racing fans" turned out, you could have counted the, on your toes. Honestly, what the sport needs are more casual fans who show up because it is an event. You think all the people who pack Citizens Bank Park in Philly are "true baseball fans"? The place has become the place to be and that is a good thing and what racing needs more of. If I want a "true racing fan" experience I can go to Aqueduct in January.
Paul_Tuon More than 1 year ago
"$9 for a can of beer" I said before that Del Mar enjoys taking advantage of their loyal fans as the "$9 for a can of beer" shows. For now, those fans will take a blind eye toward this kind of treatment but sooner or later they'll realize that somebody is trying to pull a fast one on them, and then Del Mar will wake up smells the coffee. I have no problem charging these kinds of fees as long as you treat your loyal fans well, such as putting a great card for them to see and not mediocre cards as they have been for ages for their openning days.
Marcus Semona More than 1 year ago
A lot of casinos give patrons free alcoholic drinks as long as they are playing, this is part of why casinos are thriving while horse racing is dying
Alex More than 1 year ago
Don't get me wrong: I'd love it if they handed me bourbon and gingers all day at the track. But... come on.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Del Mar has had about 10 Million Homes built around the Place in the last 30 years. You get about 25 thousand MORONS willing to get GOUGED by Del Mar Management,another Group of MORONS that couldn't run a Vaccume cleaner.This Management team have been taking BOWS for years for NOTHING....................
Todd Elliot More than 1 year ago
every year the lookie loos come out at del mar and lose their money on this horrible track which real handicappers avoid betting and wait till santa anita for a fair track...the stretch is quicksand and betting at del mar is like playing russian roulette...notice the first race was run in 1:48 and change for a mile and sixteenth,, of which my grandmother can run it in...nobody will be there during the week, as usual..even baffert knows that this track is a joke in his own comments.
SCOTT More than 1 year ago
there wasn't a parade of impossible-to-find longshots. And horses won on the lead and from off the pace. that first race was won by a maiden claimer who looked good on paper, went right to the lead and stayed on the rail, repulsed a bid on the turn and held sway in the stretch. guess they didn't tell her about the quicksand...
Todd Elliot More than 1 year ago
did you see the time? why did baffert say he didnt trust the main track? do you know something that everyone knows and you dont?
SCOTT More than 1 year ago
all I'm saying is that other than the final time the race (and all yesterday's races) looked normal to me...
paul cervenan More than 1 year ago
But, the Race Card on Thursday looks like something from the BUSH TRACKS, terrible and they say Saratoga has to worry about Del Mar? Fat chance !The Del Mar Administrators as well as the Race Secretary should be ashamed to charge $10.00 admission. I'm glad I am not paying $175.00 a night hotel room to vacation opening weekend?
SCOTT More than 1 year ago
admission is only $6
mike More than 1 year ago
Go watch a movie or something if you dont like it.
Marcus Semona More than 1 year ago
I stayed in Tijuana, Hotel cost me $22.
ilias katogiritis More than 1 year ago
I think if they got rid of polycrap handle will skyrocket.
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
And polytrack didn't stop it
Kevin Smith More than 1 year ago
Most of the people I saw yesterday couldn't tell the difference between polytrack, cardboard, tapeta, dirt or anythng else. They just came to see and be seen.....but if that's what it takes to keep the sport alive then I say bring on the fashion show everyday!!!!
Frank More than 1 year ago
Thats funny Kevin. I agree its all about being seen out there not horse racing.
EJXD2 More than 1 year ago
Just like at Royal Ascot.
JDS0810 More than 1 year ago
Opening Day is a phenomena...he is right...let's count the numbers at the end of the meet before popping champagne. Hopefully good solid field sizes and attendance all meet long create new fans and the Autumn meet at SA is great and then BC and So Cal racing thrives forever....