Del Mar turf track widening approved

By Joe Tash

A long-planned widening of the turf track at the Del Mar Fairgrounds received approval from the board of directors of the 22nd District Agricultural Association on Tuesday, March 12, in an effort to improve track safety and put San Diego County in the running for the prestigious Breeder’s Cup horse racing event.

“This is a really big deal,” said board president Adam Day.

The board approved the project, which is budgeted at $3.7 million, on a unanimous vote. Along with approving the project itself, the board also approved a “mitigated negative declaration,” an environmental document which spells out steps the district will take to minimize or eliminate potential environmental impacts from the project.

The California Coastal Commission also must approve the project, and that panel is expected to consider the turf track expansion at its meeting in April, said director David Watson.

The 22nd DAA operates the state-owned fairgrounds. The property is home to the annual San Diego County Fair, as well as a horse racing meet operated by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

The fairgrounds currently has two horse-racing tracks – the turf track and a polytrack, which runs outside the turf track. The project approved by the board will widen the turf track by 25 percent.

Day said the primary purpose of the work is to improve safety for both horses and riders. But widening the track will also allow more horses to compete in each race, improving the track’s betting “handle,” and bringing in more revenue to the district.

By widening the turf track, Del Mar will put itself in contention for hosting the Breeder’s Cup, an annual two-day horse racing event scheduled this year for Nov. 1 and 2 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.

“It’s been described to me as bigger and better than the Super Bowl in terms of economic impact,” Day said of the Breeder’s Cup.

If the project receives approval from the Coastal Commission, work is scheduled to begin on Sept. 5, the day after this year’s Del Mar race meet ends, Josh Rubinstein, executive vice president with the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, told the board.

Construction is expected to take about eight months, and will be completed before the 2014 race meet begins in July, Day said.

The turf that will be used to increase the size of the turf track is now being grown in the Coachella Valley, Rubinstein said.