‘Opening Day at the Races’

The 71st season of thoroughbred racing at Del Mar got off to a rousing start on Wednesday, July 20. Attendance set a new record, as did betting and food and beverage consumption.

“The total handle on track — the amount of money bet on site at Del Mar — increased a startling 9.47 percent over last year, to $4,174,139. Programs sold out earlier than ever before and the food and beverage people reported $1.5 million in sales, best ever. “ (Bill Dwyer, LA Times, July 21.) And that’s not to mention the hats and the post-race parties.

The summer racing season has been an integral part of Del Mar’s history since Bing Crosby opened the track in 1937. Except for the war years of 1942-44, opening day at the races has been an annual event. The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has operated the racing meet since 1969, and has done a marvelous job of making Del Mar unique among racing venues. Daily attendance at Del Mar is higher than any other track in the U.S., and continues to improve despite declining interest in horse racing and the number of thoroughbreds in California.

The city of Del Mar benefits from the visitors that the race meet attracts to our hotels and restaurants. Hotel occupancy rates peak in July and August, boosting revenues from transient occupancy and sales taxes. We believe that the Del Mar meet can continue to improve despite declines in horse racing elsewhere. The plan for Del Mar to purchase the fairgrounds was anchored by a group of horsemen who planned to invest in improving the racetrack, and attracting more racing days and premier events like the Breeder’s Cup to Del Mar. Those plans are currently on hold, but they could quickly be resurrected if the state decides to sell the fairgrounds.

I was pleased to see that many opening day attendees came in limousine buses rather than private cars. There certainly is a traffic impact of the racing meet, and that needs to be addressed not only because of the inconvenience of the congestion caused but also because all of the idling vehicles are major sources of air pollution. Metrolink has added service from Los Angeles to Solana Beach on weekends during the race meet, and that will help. The highly polluting, double-decker bus service from the train station to the races needs to be replaced with more environmentally friendly alternatives, and the permanent train stop adjacent to the fairgrounds should be a top priority in the SANDAG regional transportation plan, not a deferred project to 2035. Let’s work together to make the Del Mar race meet even more successful in the future, and solve any problems associated with it.