08/08/2016 12:00PM

Illness, fewer horses contributing to drop in field size


DEL MAR, Calif. – The average field size at the Del Mar summer meeting has failed to keep pace with last year’s, although officials think field sizes could grow during the last half of the meet.

Through Sunday, the 18th day of the 39-day season, fields have averaged 8.1 runners per race compared with 8.79 runners during a similar span last year. The entire 2015 summer meeting also averaged 8.79 runners, which equaled the field size for the 2013 season and is the highest in this century at Del Mar.

Officials said over the weekend that an average of 8.4 runners per race is possible before the meeting ends Sept. 5. Field size is among the main drivers of handle. Track officials said in early August that overall handle was down more than 11 percent from a similar period in 2015.

:: Enjoy news and analysis from DRF? Get handicapping analysis, real-time coverage, special reports, and charts. Unlock access with DRF Plus.

Officials cite two factors for the decline in average field size – fewer horses in Southern California this year and an illness that has been running through some stables in the last month.

“We’ve heard anecdotally from trainers that sickness is knocking them out,” said Tom Robbins, the track’s executive vice president of racing.

The decline has been acutely felt in 2-year-old races. For the entire 2015 summer meeting, 2-year-old races averaged 8.6 runners per race. Through Sunday, 2-year-old races at this meet had averaged 7.75 runners.

Trainer Jim Cassidy, president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, said his stable was hit hard by illness at Santa Anita in late June.

“I thought we had the sickness behind us, and we got two with temperatures this morning,” he said last weekend. “It’s not horrible, but you have to back off.”

Santa Anita averaged 8.1 runners per race at its winter-spring meeting, down from 8.36 at the corresponding meeting in 2014-15. Santa Anita’s spring-summer meeting averaged 7.26 runners per race and was hurt by the absence of turf racing in the final three weeks to renovate the course.

David Jerkens, Del Mar’s director of racing, said there are approximately 3,100 horses on the Del Mar backstretch, at Los Alamitos, and at the training centers at nearby Galway Downs and San Luis Rey Downs, compared with about 3,300 at this time last year.

Jerkens said Santa Anita’s program of running only dirt races for the final three weeks of its spring-summer meeting, which ended July 10, left fewer horses ready to run in the main-track races at the start of the Del Mar meeting.

“I think our dirt inventory was backed up a bit by the conclusion of Santa Anita,” he said. “We felt the impact of that a bit.”

Jerkens expects more runners in the coming weeks. For the eight-race cards this Wednesday through Friday, there were 62, 70, and 67 horses entered.

Jerkens said that despite the decline in field size, Del Mar remains better off than most tracks.

“We still have the highest field size in California,” he said. “It’s among the highest in the country.”

– additional reporting by Brad Free

Chas 6 months ago
Excuses, excuses and more excuses....this all anyone in charge with racing in California does...in addition, try finding stalls to bring horses to race...SA has not rebuilt the barns and never will, thus keeping the horse account low...Del Mar's stalls are only available during their meet and the other two places are so far away from the tracks and limited in size they are not any help from really making an increase impact...
And finally, the TOC has done nothing to promote ownership and finding new owners...you have trainers that are folding up shop like a Ted West because of the lack of any new owners...and if there are new owners coming into the sport, they are directed to a Baffert or O'Neil to race their horses with....
The only one's who have no idea the sport is on a steady, slow death are the ones running the game like a Tom Robbins...
Bill Keating 6 months ago
Why can't Del Mar keep its barns open to accommodate the overflow from Santa Anita? Saratoga keeps its barns and training facilities open from mid-April through the end of October. Belmont's facilities are probably more noisy and overcrowded than Santa Anita's. Mott and Asmussen leave some at Saratoga after the meet closes and train them up to the Breeder's Cup or whatever. Even though Saratoga is 200 miles and an almost three and a half hour drive from Belmont lots of trainers leave horses there and van them down to Belmont to run.

“A lot of the Darley and Godolphin horses stay up here,” [Kiaran] McLaughlin said. “A lot of the 2-year-olds will stay up here with the hope of running down at Belmont in the fall. Because of stall limits at Belmont, we have an overflow up here. It's an extension of Belmont Park."

Seems like Del Mar could serve the same purpose.
Dave Oster 6 months ago
8.1 hardly a coparison to how bad it is,,,,,,,could that 8.1 be high due to 1ts time starters that fill the box......del mar reminds of Arlington "overrated" park,,,,Horrible fields,just higher purses
David Craighead 6 months ago
if, owners of the major track venues stop catering to All weather surfaces and poly track surfaces and just stick with American way of racing as have been in the past and leave well enough alone you will see a big jump in race track handle and people will come back to horse racing instead of catering to every new suggestion for improvement that lead to nothing but chaos and confusion to the spectator and fans of racing. You keep shooting yourself in the foot every time something appears to have gold in it and find out that it don't work as was suggested! You can only re invent the wheel at 380 degrees so, if, ain't broke don't fix it!
Greg Scherr 6 months ago
Steve, field sizes at the So Cal meets have been dropping for the past several years, Del Mar, Santa Anita are looking more like Golden Gate and Bay Meadows have for the last 8-10 years.  The reasons are many, however when you use a race with 6 horses and 2 trainers each enter 2 horses you KNOW there's going to be 1-2 scratches, there's also the overwhelming amount of games being played by a number (3-4) trainers that reduce competition.  As a stark contrast look at Gulfstream, 10 races with an avg. of 9-10 per race, 5-6 turf races a day with 10-14 entries.  On Saturday DM ran 10 races with a TOTAL of 79 horses, GP ran 12 races and 114 ran an avg of 7.9 vs 9.7 and there's 1 possibly 2 trainers who are questionable in my opinion.  So it's not injuries, illness or weather, it's become a depreciating asset without much value remaining
J Vette 6 months ago

You are 100% correct, Cal racing is horrible now, look at the difference between D.M. & Saratoga.....

YESSSSS, Sunday, 2nd Race, Miller 2 horses, SAME owner, 1 6/5, the other 7/2, ML was 5/2 & there was a scratch, NATURALLY who wins, the 7/2 shot & watch the ride of Bejarano, looks like the FIX was in for Miller's "other" horse to win....

Wonder why Cal racing is down the toilet ???

Greg Scherr 6 months ago
There was 1 race Sat or Sunday, 7 entries 3 trainers EACH had 2 and O'Neill had 1, 2 trainers had 6 of the 7 runners!!!  I had been going to SA, HOL, etc  since I was ~7, I owned and raced there for almost 15 years, today I only look at PP's when I'm bored or done at SAR, GP and Laurel.  I play what I call an All Cheater pick-4, no DRF, no PP's, nothing but trainer names and post posn. #'s, have hit several with 4 trainers.  I know 3 owners who now have a string at GP and 2 others considering sending more there.  The CHRB doesn't care, it's a Gov't. job they don't want to know