It’s a wrap for Del Mar’s “Bing Crosby Season.”
The old-school-Hollywood-themed meet — which opened Nov. 7 and ended Sunday, Nov. 30 — reported strong handle and attendance marks for 15 days of racing. It was the seaside oval’s first fall meeting in several decades.
The daily average handle was a robust $10,410,497, which was a 15 percent increase over last year’s autumn meet at the now-defunct Betfair Hollywood Park in Inglewood.
And the daily attendance was significantly higher: The average at Del Mar was 9,055 per afternoon, a 187 percent uptick from 2013 at Hollywood.
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President and Chief Executive Officer Joe Harper said he didn’t really have set expectations going into the meet, but he had “a lot of curiosity,” and that the fall season was an experiment.
“We had a very successful meet — not just the numbers, but it had a good feeling about it,” he said. “It was like the old days — it was not quite as crowded, people were having a good time, and racing was good.”
For the Bing Crosby Season, the track changed its blue-and-gold summer scheme to a black-and-gold theme, and staff members donned classic black vests and white shirts instead of the carefree palm-tree gear.
Among the meet’s highlights that Harper cited were the appearance of Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner California Chrome (who won the Grade I, $300,000 Hollywood Derby on Saturday); prominent trainers such as Mark Casse, H. Graham Motion and Christophe Clement shipping their horses across the country to compete in Del Mar’s stakes races; an average field of 8.35 horses per race; and sunny weather with temperatures averaging in the 70s.
And “the best thing was the fact that there were absolutely no (major) injuries,” Harper said. “The turf course was terrific. I’ve never seen it get this much use in 15 days; it held up.”
The season’s training title went to Peter Miller, who had 15 victories, and the top rider was Victor Espinoza, who rode 12 winners.
“Del Mar has proven to be a wonderful host for the lion’s share of the old Hollywood Park fall dates,” said Mike Pegram, chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and a part-time Del Mar resident. “We had terrific racing, a first-class purse structure, enthusiastic crowds and a very positive response by all our horsemen to a winning environment. We are already looking forward to coming back next year.”
When they return in the summer, they will encounter a new main track, which will be converted from the synthetic Polytrack back to a dirt surface. The oval will have the same “El Segundo sand” that’s used at Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia.
The 2015 fall meet will be slightly longer than this year’s, at five weeks, and Del Mar will be the California simulcast host for the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which will be held at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. Harper said there will be more of a focus on marketing, and that the track will expand upon its Opening Day theme — a “‘Gatsby’-meets-Hollywood feel.”
“I’ve had people tell me that in a few years our fall meet is going to be one of the most desirable in the country,” Harper said. “They say it is going to grow in reputation, be a place where fans and horsemen are going to want to be. From what I’ve seen so far, I am not going to argue.”