Del Mar's simple, yet highly effective, "Ship and Win" program, where owners and trainers are given incentives to import out-of-state horses to race locally, will be back for its seventh summer at the seaside oval with a notable bonus increase providing even more encouragement to— literally—ship and win.
Previously, "S&W" horses received an automatic $1,000 check when they made their first start at Del Mar, along with an additional 30% bonus on top of whatever their purse earnings were in that initial outing. Starting in 2017, though, that automatic check has been enhanced by 50% to $1,500, with the 30% purse bonus continuing to be part of the stimulus formula.
Del Mar's numbers with the program that originated in 2011 have been impressive. Starting with 107 horses being imported that first summer, the total of "S&W" horses had risen to more than 800 after the 2016 summer session. Further, the track attracted over 100 imports at its three meets since fall racing began in 2014. Those "S&W" horses subsequently made more than 1,300 starts at Del Mar, providing augmentation to the track's fields and spice to its handicapping stew.
Besides the ready impact on Del Mar's field sizes, tracing those "S&W" horses throughout the years shows that the majority of them stay on in California and their ensuing activities have projected out to more than 3,000 additional starts made at the state's racetracks.
"'Ship and Win' is a winner all around for everyone involved in it," notes Del Mar's racing secretary David Jerkens. "We want our local owners and trainers to see it as an opportunity that can work to their advantage in two ways - for personal gain and for upgrading racing in the state. We also want racing outfits across the country to know that we've got open arms for those with runners at all levels to come be part of one of our sport's best circuits."
Jerkens quoted some of the increases for "S&W" runners when the 30% bonus is calculated into the track's already healthy purse structure. In the case of a starter in a first-level allowance race, he noted that the $62,000 purse would be heightened by a bonus of $18,600 for "S&W" horses, meaning they are instead running for a prize of $80,600. A $32,000 claimer normally runs for a pot of $39,000, but with "S&W" monies added in the purse rises to $50,700. Even the track's lowest-level horses, the $20,000 maiden-claimers, see their purses rise from $20,000 to $26,000.
Jerkens emphasized that the 30% bonus applies to purse payouts across the board, not just the winner's share.
With the aid of "S&W" horses, Del Mar has been able to maintain a key element of its racing success - strong field size. The shore oval has maintained a per-race average of more than 8.5 runners over the past five years, highest in the state and one of the highest marks in the country. Wagering studies have shown that notable increases in handle occur in direct correlation to larger field size. With increases in handle, purses are hiked as well, making the "S&W" program a full-circle positive for all participants.
There are only a few basic rules for "S&W" horses: An eligible horse must have made his/her last start outside California and cannot have raced in the state within the past 12 months. First-time starters are not eligible. All stakes runners are eligible to receive the $1,500 starter fee, but no stakes runners - including overnight stakes - are eligible for the 30% purse bonus.
Those with questions concerning the program are encouraged to contact Jerkens, or Del Mar's executive vice president for racing Tom Robbins, at (858) 792-4230.
Del Mar's summer stand this year will begin on July 19 and continue through Labor Day, September 4. Its fall meet runs November 1 to November 26. As part of the second session, Del Mar—for the first time—will host the Breeders' Cup Championships on November 3 and November 4.