Del Mar Fairgrounds to replace synthetic track with dirt

By Joe Tash

Following the completion of its fall race meet in November, the Del Mar Fairgrounds will replace its synthetic racetrack surface with dirt at a cost of about $5 million.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association board voted unanimously at its meeting on Tuesday, April 8, to request a permit for the work from the California Coastal Commission. Officials said they expect the commission to approve the request at their next meeting, based on discussions with commission staff.

The project entails removing the top 13.5 inches of synthetic material from the track and replacing it with dirt. The current synthetic track was installed in 2007 and the track had a life expectancy of seven years.

Josh Rubinstein, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, told the 22nd DAA board the track needs to go back to a dirt surface to be consistent with other tracks in Southern California, because having different types of surfaces can be a hazard to horses and their riders.

“We want absolutely the safest surface possible and feel returning to dirt will allow us to do that,” Rubinstein said.

This year, the Del Mar track will host two race meets, the first from July 17 to Sept. 3, and the second from Nov. 7 through Nov. 30. Fairgrounds CEO Tim Fennell said the track surface replacement will take place after the conclusion of the fall meet.

Those in the horse racing community — including jockeys and trainers — generally support the change back to dirt, although there are some fans of a synthetic track surface, Rubinstein said. “The overall feedback from the industry is extremely positive that we’re going back to dirt.”