Track wraps up season

Records still broken during 69th year

Racetrack officials are hailing the 69th season at Del Mar Racetrack as a success despite modest declines in attendance and handle from last year’s record highs.

Total pari-mutuel handle for the 43 days topped $559 million, down about 7 percent from 2007.

Given the economic downturn, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President Joe Harper said he could not be happier.

“The crowds were off 4 percent - that’s quite amazing considering the economy,” Harper said. “They didn’t bet as much, but they spent about the same as last year on other things like food and beverages.”

More than 43,450 fans poured through the gates on Opening Day, not only the highest on track attendance of the season, but the largest Opening Day crowd in the track’s history. The last day was Sept. 3.

The meet’s premiere $1 million race, the Pacific Classic, filled quite a few seats Aug. 24, but even more track-goers attended the reggae concert the day before.

The track has diversified its entertainment offerings to attract a broader, younger audience, including micro-brew festivals and concerts.

“All the things we’ve put into play continued to work well,” Harper said.

Faster Polytrack

The performance of Polytrack, the safer, synthetic surface installed before the 2007 race meet improved. Last year, race times were slower than the on the old, dirt track. After changing the mixture’s wax and adjusting maintenance procedures to add more water, times returned to their clip pace.

While some horsemen may still lament the loss of the dirt track, overall catastrophic breakdowns were down to eight this season - “and that’s reason enough for us to work with Polytrack,” Harper said.

Field size and variety

A state mandated ban on steroids went into effect at the beginning of the meet causing a slowdown at the competitors’ entry box early in the season. However, by the end of August, field sizes increased to an average of 9.5 horses per contest.

It seemed like more horses normally stabled on the East Coast traveled to Del Mar this season, which is always positive, Harper said. Increased competition from top-notch horses provides a boost to California’s struggling horse racing industry.

“They are starting to see the benefits of synthetic track and of being at Del Mar,” Harper said.

Big winners

Impressive performances were seen from the meet’s top horses, jockeys and trainers. Earning the honor of Horse of the Meet was Pacific Classic winner Go Between, who charged from behind to outrun the competition by a neck.

Stardom Bound, who won the Del Mar Debutant on Labor Day, was voted top 2-year-old filly. A media poll determines the winners.

Jockey Rafael Bejarano rose to the top of the Del Mar standings quickly and stayed there for the rest of the meet, winning 45 races. Bejarano swept the Southern California racing circuit during his first full year here, also winning at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.

Once trainer John Sadler - who came under investigation during the meet for excessive steroid on his horses - rose to the top, he coasted in first place untouched, finishing with 31 victories.