07/18/2013 8:38AM

Del Mar opening-day attendance slips, business up

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DEL MAR, Calif. - Del Mar drew an opening-day ontrack crowd of 43,030 on Wednesday, a decline of 9 percent over the record 47,339 that attended opening day in 2012.

Wednesday’s program was the first time that ontrack attendance on opening day  had fallen since 2004.

[DEL MAR 2013: Complete meet coverage, schedule, race replays]

In 2003, the track reported an ontrack crowd of 40,682 on opening day, a figure that dropped to 39,346 in 2004. The ontrack audience rose annually for eight years, beginning in 2005.

Although the crowd was smaller, handle rose from last year.

Ontrack handle on the 10-race card grew by 2.5 percent, from $4,288,057 in 2012 to $4,395,594 this year. All-sources handle, including simulcasting and account-wagering sources, rose by 3.5 percent, from $14,176,153 last year to $14,682,671, track officials said.

Despite the drop in attendance on Wednesday, the place was still packed. There were lengthy lines to bet, and buy food or drink. The areas surrounding the paddock and the track apron were full of racegoers within an hour of the 2 p.m. first post.

Track president Joe Harper said that the smaller crowd made opening day easier from a logistical point of view.

“Anytime you get more than 40,000, you can’t complain,” he said. “It was an easier opening day. We purposefully limited a lot of ticket sales in the turf club and it probably paid off.

“We will be up in food and beverage sales. More people could get to the bars.

“It was a manageable day as far as an opening day was concerned.”

Harper said there is a possibility that frequent fans chose to avoid the crowd on opening day.

“I think the big crowds we were getting were having a negative effect on our regular customers,” he said. “You couldn’t move around.”