07/18/2011 2:45PM

Del Mar purses boosted by 20 percent

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Overnight purses are set to rise by an eye-catching 20 percent at Del Mar when the meeting opens Wednesday, with the possibility that even more prize money could be offered before the 37-day meeting ends Sept. 7.

Del Mar director of racing Tom Robbins said purse levels may be underestimated since the projections were made following a disappointing Santa Anita meeting earlier this year that saw a 9 percent decline in all-sources handle.

“We’re hoping our purse structure is conservative,” Robbins said.

Purses at California tracks are higher this year following the passage of controversial legislation in 2010 that increases the takeout on exotic wagers by 2 percent. The additional monies were specifically earmarked for overnight purses in an effort to lure more owners to participate in California racing. While the additional takeout has angered bettors because of the higher cost of exotic wagers, and caused some to boycott California racing, purses were substantially higher at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that ended Sunday.

Before that meeting started, Hollywood Park raised purses 16 percent to 20 percent from 2010 levels. An additional 10 percent increase was enacted for the final three weeks of the meeting, and a retroactive payment of approximately 7 percent will be paid to owners whose horses earned purses from April 23 to June 26. The all-sources handle at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting that ended Sunday was expected to be lower by approximately 2.4 percent, track officials there said last week.

At Del Mar, prize money has risen across the board. A maiden special weight for sprinters will be worth $63,000, an increase of $13,000 from last year and $12,000 from 2009. A six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old $18,000 to $20,000 claimers will be worth $33,000, up from $27,000 the last two years.

A starter allowance for nonwinners of two who won maiden races for claiming prices of $40,000 or less has a value of $37,000, up $9,000 from 2010 and $7,000 from 2009.

Robbins said the purse increases were “across the board and focus more on the claiming horses.”

Track officials hope the higher purse structure will increase field sizes.

Del Mar averaged 8.18 starters in 325 races in a 37-day meeting in 2010. In 2009, there was an average of 8.56 starters in 344 races in a 37-day meeting.

In conjunction with the Thoroughbred Owners of California, incentive programs have been launched this summer to attract horses from out of state. A $1,000 appearance fee and a 20 percent bonus for initial purse money earned in overnight races, will be paid to the owners of horses from outside of California who start at Del Mar. Only horses shipped from outside of California are eligible. The appearance fee will be paid to horses racing at any level.

There are six horses eligible for both incentives on the opening-day program. Two of them made their last starts at SunRay Park, with shippers from Arlington Park, Emerald Downs, Keeneland, and Lone Star Park also represented. The owners of three of the 14 3-year-olds entered in Wednesday’s Oceanside Stakes are eligible for the $1,000 appearance fee. Those horses last started in France, and at Arlington Park and Prairie Meadows.

Robbins said approximately 50 horses who started at Del Mar in 2010 would have been eligible for the purse incentives had the programs been in place. This year, the number of horses eligible for the incentives could exceed 100.

Funding for the 20 percent bonus comes from the racetrack and the TOC, Robbins said, with an estimated total cost of $300,000 for the program.