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Del Mar fall meet average handle rises 7.5 percent

Monday, November 27th, 2017

DEL MAR, Calif. – The success of Del Mar’s fall meeting, which ended Sunday, can best be illustrated by the fact that even without the handle figures from this year’s Breeders’ Cup, the track was still up in terms of average daily handle from a year ago, with the best numbers posted yet for this now 4-year-old season.

It was a meeting to remember, beginning with the first Breeders’ Cup held at this track, and concluding with a series of outstanding stakes races carried over from the days when Hollywood Park had these fall dates. The racing was good and safe, the business robust.

Del Mar raced 16 days, but excluding the Breeders’ Cup cards on Nov. 3 and 4, the track had a daily average handle of $10,935,714 for the other 14 days, up 7.5 percent from the $10,166,667 average for the 15 days of last year’s fall meeting and besting the previous high meet average of $10,455,629 from the inaugural meeting in 2014.

The Breeders’ Cup itself handled $166,077,486 over the two days, but to incorporate those numbers would obviously not give a fair indication of the year-to-year results.

“This was probably one of the smoothest years we’ve ever had, product-wise, safety-wise,” Joe Harper, the track’s president and chief executive officer, said in the press box following Sunday’s final race.

There were two equine fatalities during the meeting, and the summer season had improved numbers in that regard, too, which Harper said was due to the efforts of Dennis Moore, who began overseeing the care of the main track earlier this year, and Leif Dickinson, the longtime supervisor of the turf course.

Del Mar’s meeting came into existence following the closing of Hollywood Park in 2013. There was no way a meeting in a resort area like this could equal in the fall what goes on in the summer, but the fall meet stands on its own in terms of profitability.

“It’s a different kind of meet compared to the summer, but the numbers are good, and we’re delighted that our profits can contribute to the stabling of horses on the Southern California circuit,” Harper said.

The average daily ontrack attendance for the meet – again, not including the Breeders’ Cup, which eliminates a Saturday – was 5,516 per day, a dip of 5.3 percent from last year.

Attendance from newcomers was strong, though. The Breeders’ Cup exposed Del Mar to fans and horsemen – like Chad Brown, Aidan O’Brien, and Shug McGaughey – who had never been here in person before, and it seems likely the event will be back here in the not-too-distant future.

“So many people came up to me saying they’d never been here before, and every single one of them said they were coming back,” Harper said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Del Mar’s Ship & Win program was even more popular this year. In the 14 days outside of the Breeders’ Cup, there were 58 horses who were eligible to the program, nearly twice the 31 in 15 days last year.

“Clearly, it’s a program that’s working,” said David Jerkens, the track’s racing secretary. “The meet just keeps getting better. Del Mar in November, four years now, is entrenched.

“We’re generating interest from horsemen from out of state not just for stakes, but for allowance races. We’re trying to improve the product every year. We’re getting some new faces every year, like Tony Dutrow this year with Mo Town for the Hollywood Derby. People know this meet is on the calendar to stay.”

For the 14 days outside the Breeders’ Cup cards, Del Mar averaged 8.53 runners per race, essentially equal to the 8.51 average for the 15 days last fall.

The meet was certainly a memorable one for Peter Miller, who was a runaway winner in the trainers’ standings with 19 victories, including two – Roy H in the Sprint and Stormy Liberal in the Turf Sprint – in the Breeders’ Cup. He had more than twice the wins of runner-up Phil D’Amato, who had nine.

Miller also won the fall meeting last year. D’Amato tied with Richard Baltas for leading trainer during the summer meet.

Flavien Prat was the leading jockey with 18 wins, four more than apprentice Evin Roman. Prat also won the summer meeting.

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