Thursday, September 8, 2011

Del Mar Wraps up 2011 season

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, the seaside oval that entertainment icon Bing Crosby and his Hollywood pals began in 1937, once again put on a sparkling show, wrapping up its 72nd season Wednesday with fanfare. Despite slight declines from last year in attendance and handle, the 37-day meet will go into the history books for record purse levels, increased field sizes and claiming activity, innovative new wagering options, and a successful new “Ship and Win” racing program.

“I’m not going to get into the obvious things about the economy and lack of racing stock and all those other ready-made excuses,” said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s CEO, president and general manager, Joe Harper. “What I want to say is this: We adapted, we adjusted, we partnered, we promoted and we worked hard. In the end, we managed to do what most everyone in this business hopes to do – we conducted a ‘helluva’ good race meeting that was fun for everyone involved.”

The meet by the numbers.

The meet’s final attendance count was 660,245, nearly even with 2010’s total of 662,521, for a daily average of 17,844 in 2011 vs. last year’s 17,906 – a slight decline of 0.3%.

Del Mar’s handle figures also showed a slight decline of 4.2%, dipping from $12,133,302 to $11,628,660 on a daily average basis. Overall, the 2011 total handle was $430,260,422 as opposed to last year’s $448,932,160.

Although handle inched down, it still ended up way ahead of pre-meet projections, allowing the track to pay its horsemen a record $1.5-million purse underpayment – representing a bonus of more than 10% on top of the nation’s highest overnight purses, which averaged $630,000 per day, an approximate 13.7% increase over 2010’s daily average of $556,324.

Del Mar increased its field size during the stand from 8.2 last year to 8.4 in 2011, yet another flag of encouragement for those spotting trends in the business. Additionally, Del Mar maintained a five-day race week and in total ran only two fewer races than it offered in 2010.

The track’s claiming box, a signal as to how horsemen see the viability of the game, burst with activity throughout the summer, finishing up with 246 total claims for $5,965,500 as opposed to 2010’s numbers of 141 claims for a total of $3,635,500.

And let’s not forget opening day, which saw a single-day record crowd of 46,588, meaning first-day attendance has risen for the last seven years straight.

2011 jockey and trainer titles.

Joel Rosario became the first jockey in 57 years to win three consecutive Del Mar riding titles, with a 49-42 win margin over Joe Talamo for the 2011 crown. Rosario, a 26-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, won the 2010 title over Rafael Bejarano with a victory in the final race of the meeting after a dominating performance in 2009 when he recorded 56 wins to 32 for runner-up Tyler Baze.

Mike Mitchel took the training title when he finished the meet with 25 wins over John Sadler’s 24. It was Mitchell’s seventh Del Mar title and his first since 1996. Mitchell achieved another milestone on August 12 when he surpassed Ron McAnally to become the track’s all-time leading trainer by wins. Mitchell ended the season with 454 career wins to McAnally’s 437.

2011 meet leaders.

The unprecedented accomplishments of Acclamation, winner of both the Grade 1 Eddie Read Handicap on grass and the Grade 1 TVG $1 million Pacific Classic on the Polytrack, prompted voters in the annual media poll to make the five-year-old California-bred son of Unusual Heat a champion of the 72nd Del Mar summer season in three categories, topped by Horse of the Meeting. Acclamation was a unanimous selection as Horse of the Meeting and top older horse and a near-unanimous choice as top grass horse.

Veteran California owner-breeders Bud and Judy Johnston, along with their daughter and son-in-law – Mary and Peter Hilvers – rode their stable star Acclamation to honors among owners at the 2011 Del Mar meeting with earnings of $780,000, easily the top figure during the 37-day stand.

Top owner for races won at the meet with six firsts was Glen Hill Farm, which is the nom du course of longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder Leonard Lavin.

Innovations at the meet.

Del Mar’s “Ship and Win” program, in which horsemen were given monetary incentives to bring in horses from out of state, lured more than 100 new runners to the race meet. All told, the program was worth $107,000 in $1,000 starter bonuses and $61,516 in 20% purse bonus rewards.

Several new bets were instituted for the 2011 season, including the “50¢ Players Pick 5” with a reduced takeout that proved popular with the wagering public. Besides, the track experimented with “seeding” its Sunday Pick Six Pools with a $50,000 carryover that pumped up the handle on that longtime California staple by 15% on Sundays and led to several husky next-day carryovers.

So, until next year, that's a wrap.

Next stop on the Southern California circuit is the 13-day race meet that begins Friday, Sept 9 at Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, followed by Santa Anita’s Autumn Race Meet, which opens Friday, Sept. 30 at the Arcadia oval.

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