The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s 2020 budget was approved by the 22nd District Agricultural Association’s board of directors on Feb. 11, as club officials hope their continued commitment to improve horse racing safety assuage public outcries about horse fatalities.
“The status of horse racing is a major issue that reverberates through everything we do,” fairgrounds board member David Watson said.
Watson added that the fairgrounds board of directors is “more and more subsidizing racing” in ways such as allocating funding for concerts and other events on race weekends in an attempt to draw more people to the races, who then spend money on parking and concessions.
A surge in horse fatalities at the Santa Anita racetrack last year drew a lot of scrutiny from animal rights activists and media, and contributed to lower attendance and wagering levels during Del Mar’s summer race meet.
“The safety of our athletes, both equine and human continues to be Del Mar’s top priority, but we understand more must be done,” Mike Ernst, executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said in a letter to 22nd District Agricultural Association CEO Tim Fennell.
He mentioned the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, formed last November when the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club joined with other organizations throughout the country to set industry standards for safety and transparency.
“The TSC provides for a comprehensive and centralized set of standards that include medical, operational and organizational reforms not only in California but across our organizations nationally,” Ernst wrote in the letter.
He also mentioned that Del Mar was ranked as the safest major racetrack in the United States by the Jockey Club Equine Database.
The 2020 summer race meet opens on July 18 and runs through Labor Day on Sept. 7. Revenues for 2020 are projected to be approximately $37 million, an increase of 6.4% from 2019. Expenses for 2020, before other payments such as rent to the fairgrounds are factored in, are estimated at $33.9 million.
Scott Kaplan, a local sports radio commentator, said that since the Chargers left for Los Angeles, horse racing has replaced NFL football as the sporting event that brings the region to life.
But Martha Sullivan is one of several animal rights activists who has repeatedly urged the board to discontinue horse racing.
“The best way to cut down horse deaths is to cut down on horse racing,” she said.