09/09/2009 11:00PM

Five-day schedule pays off for Del Mar


DEL MAR, Calif. - Having excised Monday, the worst performing day of the week from its former six-day-a-week schedule, Del Mar found this summer that less was more. Owing to a five-day-a-week schedule that kept bettors and horses fresher, both ontrack attendance and overall handle were up on average over last year's meeting.

The daily average attendance for the 37-day meet, which closed Wednesday, was 17,181, up 7.4 percent from last year's 16,002 during a 43-day season. It was the highest ontrack average since 1987's 19,685. The next year, in-state simulcast wagering was enacted, affecting the live gate forever.

The average overall daily handle this year was $13,040,206, up slightly from last year's $13,005,906.

If non-holiday Mondays are excluded from the 2008 averages, this year's figures suffer a bit by comparison. The average attendance last year for the corresponding 37 days was 17,256, so this year's corresponding figure was down by an average of a mere 75 people per day. The average handle on those days last year was $13,806,367, meaning this year's corresponding number was down by 5.5 percent.

But in the face of a sport, and country, whose economy has been battered for much of the past year, Del Mar officials were elated with the figures. Joe Harper, Del Mar's president and chief executive officer, said that the era of six-day-a-week racing at Del Mar was likely gone.

"We found that 37 is better than 43," Harper said. "It was better received by the patrons and the employees and the horsemen. We had been looking at doing this for years, because Monday wasn't that profitable a day. When you do the math, we're a lot better off without Monday."

Bottom line, Harper said, "It looks like we're going to be a million dollars to the better, and that's mainly because we raced five days a week and business was good."

This was the third summer Del Mar raced on Polytrack. Although there were fewer races and racing days, the rate of horses being euthanized increased over the two previous years. There were 13 horses euthanized here this summer because of injuries in racing or training (including one on turf), compared with eight in 2008, and 11 in 2007. There were 18 horses euthanized in 2006, the last year Del Mar raced on dirt, but that figure was an aberration compared with previous years.

"I think Polytrack performed well. The first week was a tough one," Harper said, referring to a cluster of breakdowns just before and after the meet opened. "We will be having meetings with trainers. We want to make sure what we ve got out there is the right percentage of materials. Has the fiber lessened? Has the wax coating changed? We want to make it as forgiving a racetrack as we can."