Del Mar Summer Meet Sets Records, Track COO Wants Sportsbook to Boost Racing

Del Mar concluded its summer meet on Sunday, and it was a record-breaking season for the thoroughbred track on the Southern California coast.

Flightline, with jockey Flavien Prat aboard, heads to the winner’s circle after a dominating performance in the Sept. 3 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. The Southern California track ended its summer meet on Sunday and reported record numbers for average daily handle and average field sizes. (Image: Benoit Photo/Del Mar)

The 31-day meet generated an all-sources handle of $579.2 million, up about $8.5 million from last year’s total. The average daily handle of $18.7 million was an all-time high, besting last year’s average by about $300,000 a day.

A major reason for the record wagering was the depth of the fields it offered. The overall average of 9.1 per race was a track record. That was boosted by turf races featuring an average of 9.8 entries.

Del Mar leaders credited the track’s “Ship & Win” incentive program for helping attract more horses to the seaside track. In its 12th year, the program provides enticements to ship horses that have not run in California for more than a year. Their owners get a $5,000 guarantee for any qualified starter in their first start on dirt or $4,000 on the turf. They also qualify for a 50% purse bonus on dirt or 40% on turf.

The track saw 222 new horses compete, up from 186 last year. It’s likely many of those horses will stay in the Golden State and run again at Santa Anita Park, Los Alamitos, or Golden Gate Fields.

“This meet is the culmination of a year-long plan to revitalize California racing and return it to its rightful place as one of the best circuits in America,” Thoroughbred Owners of California Chairman Gary Fenton said in a statement.

By far, the highlight of the meet was Flightline’s incredible performance in the Pacific Classic on Sept. 3. The 4-year-old colt won the graded stakes race by nearly 20 lengths.

Del Mar, Saratoga Buck National Racing Trend

Del Mar’s success comes on the heels of Saratoga Race Course having a highly successful meet itself. The upstate New York track ended its summer season on Labor Day weekend and reported a meet-record handle of $878.2 million.

However, while the top end of the racing community is seeing healthy gains, data from Equibase shows the US racing industry in general continues to tread water.

In August, bettors wagered $1.19 billion on races at all US tracks. That’s down about $10.4 million from August 2021. There were nearly 4% fewer races and race days.

For the year, the handle is up slightly. The $8.6 billion is nearly a $21 million improvement from last year’s year-to-date total through the first eight months. Purses are up 12.3%, with horses and their connections racing for $843.6 million so far this year.

Del Mar Wants a Sportsbook

Del Mar’s purses averaged more than $800,000 per day, and if bettors approve Proposition 26 in November, track officials believe that will help them add to that.

Prop 26 would allow tribal casinos and the state’s racetracks to open retail sportsbooks at their establishments.

In an interview with Horse Racing Nation, Del Mar President and COO Josh Rubinstein said the measure’s necessary from a racing standpoint because California is the only top-tier racing state where tracks don’t have purses supplemented by other gaming revenue.

We’re doing it all on wagering on our racing product… I can only imagine what that number would be having a world-class sportsbook here,” Rubinstein told HRN.

Prop 26 is one of two sports betting measures on the Nov. 8 ballot in California. The other is Prop 27, which would legalize online sports betting statewide. While online would dominate the market if both passed, Rubinstein said he believes a brick-and-mortar book would still do well at Del Mar. That would be especially true during the track’s fall meet.

“There’s still groups of people that like to be on site with their friends and make bets,” he said. “We think the ability to have a world-class sportsbook, to incorporate that with our racing product at Del Mar in such a desirable location, has the ability to move the needle significantly for us.”

Thoroughbred racing resumes in California at Santa Anita on Sept. 30. Racing at Del Mar returns on Nov. 11 for the track’s three-week Bing Crosby meet.

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