By Jay Privman
DEL MAR, Calif. – One year after a summer season that was one of the most difficult in the track’s history, Del Mar bounced back this summer with a meeting that was up in handle, featured high-quality racing, had robust field size, and, most importantly, had a terrific safety record.
The track reported handle was up by 5.1 percent from a year ago, to an average of more than $12.5 million per day for the 36-day season, which ended Monday. Daily average ontrack attendance was 13,240, a dip of 1.5 percent.
Del Mar averaged 8.6 runners per race, well above the 8.3 average of a year ago, a significant feat racing five days per week on a circuit that usually races four days per week, and at times went down to three days per week during the elongated Santa Anita season.
And after a summer season in 2016 in which 17 horses died, most during the first four weeks of the meet, this meet was far safer. There were four fatalities in races – three on dirt, one on turf – one fatality from a catastrophic workout injury, and a sixth horse died from an apparent cardiac episode after a routine gallop.
“Night and day,” Joe Harper, Del Mar’s president and chief executive, said Monday night when asked how he felt compared to last year. “Last year was really tough.”
Harper credited track superintendent Dennis Moore, who is in charge of the main track, and Leif Dickinson, who oversees the turf course, with being among those responsible for the improved safety record, but also cited veterinarians and trainers.
“The horsemen understand that this is a problem that is not going to go away without their cooperation,” Harper said.
Richard Baltas and Phil d’Amato tied for the trainers’ title. Flavien Prat was the leading rider. Kosta and Pete Hronis won more money than any other owner.
The Hronises' mare Stellar Wind was among the stars on parade this summer. She won the Grade 1 Clement Hirsch for the second straight year. Collected, the Pacific Classic winner, was named Horse of the Meeting in a poll by media members.