Del Mar finished up a sparkling summer run Wednesday, closing out a 37-day season with a rush not quite like any it has had before.
With strong numbers rung up for purses, field size and handle, the seaside oval was happy to take a bow as it concluded its 75th anniversary year with pluses in virtually every category, some of them of the double-digit variety.
"The 75th was one of the most successful seasons ever for us," Del Mar Thoroughbred Club (DMTC) President and CEO Joe Harper said. "Terrific racing and lots of good betting opportunities because of it. And we also did the Del Mar thing really well, which means that the show was good and we had fun -- both putting it on and watching it unfold. Lots of fun."
Del Mar will pay out the highest daily average purses in its history, an estimated $687,755 per day -- an increase of 9.7 percent -- according to figures released Wednesday evening. Last year the track had established a new purse payout record of $626,823 for each afternoon, including offering the largest overnight purses in the nation.
A key to all the good racing and betting was the track's against-the-general-racing-grain ability to offer above-average-size fields for many of its races. Whereas the industry in general is struggling with a diminishing horse population, Del Mar went upward in its field size number, increasing from 8.4 per race in 2011 to 8.7 in 2012.
Thanks in no small part to the large purses and full fields, the track's noteworthy 2012 stand produced some betting increases rarely seen these days on racetrack ledgers. Its on-track wagering digits rose by 13.3 percent over the course of the seven-week stand. The daily on-track figures went from $2,087,141 in 2011 to $2,364,187 in 2012.
Overall, Del Mar's all-sources handle jumped 8.8 percent, bucking industry trends. The final figures read out at a daily average of $12,651,175 (on a total of $468,093,477) for the meet lined up against the 2011 figures of an average of $11,629,151 (on a total of $430,278,585).
Attendance numbers -- which ranked in the nation's top three when marked as a daily average -- continued strong, though they inched slightly lower at 1.2 percent over the course of the season. The daily crowds finished up at a California-best 17,623 a day, highlighted by a single-day attendance record of 47,339 on opening day, the eighth year in a row the track has outdone itself for its now highly anticipated first afternoon.
"Obviously, we at the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) are extremely pleased with the success of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club's 2012 meeting," said Lou Raffetto, president of the TOC. "While the season began with the highest purses the track has ever offered, the gains that Del Mar has experienced -- both on-track and off -- will act as a catalyst for a substantial retroactive purse payment to owners that won prize money in overnight races during the meet. We congratulate Del Mar and look forward to our return next year."
In turn, Del Mar officials were more than happy to pay tribute for the support they received from their horsemen, as well as their fans. Speaking for the track, executive vice president for racing and industry relations Tom Robbins threw out a large salute to those putting on the show -- and those taking it in.
"Our horsemen were terrific this summer," said Robbins, who also serves as the track's racing secretary. "The entry box was humming right from day one and we finished stronger than I can ever recall. Running 11-race cards across Labor Day weekend has never happened before.
"On top of that, our racing fans have to be considered among the best in the business. They come to bet, they come to have fun, and they just keep coming. It is a wonderful atmosphere to go racing."
Yet another winner during the anniversary year run was the second season of the track's popular "Ship and Win" program, a key component in the increase in horses-per-race. Horsemen and owners were encouraged to bring in out-of-state runners through the program and were rewarded monetarily for it. The "Ship and Win" horse population went up from 107 in 2011 to 137 in 2012, a 28 percent increase.
In addition to the "Ship and Win" program, the track employed the aid of the Barretts sales company to conduct a first-ever, race-ready-racehorse sale on its first weekend and sold 25 out-of-state runners in its paddock that brought an additional boost to the track inventory.
Other plus numbers that indicated the good health of the session included running more races during the 37 days this year -- 328 as opposed to 323 in 2011 -- and recording more claims -- 261 for $6,167,000 vs. 2011's 254 for $6,210,500.
The larger fields also were a factor in the track recording a record 15 Pick 6 carryovers during its stand, which fed directly into the overall handle boost. Though the handicapping was more challenging, bettors for the most part were able to hold their own, noted by the percentage of winning favorites finishing quite close to the standard acceptable one-third percentage at 32.01 percent.
The track's stellar season was further boosted by its rise in the digital world. Del Mar continued its cyber advancement by providing its fans with the first mobile app in the industry to allow on-track wagering. This highly praised customer service offered a multitude of features that included real time results, odds, will pays and scratches, along with additional wagering and informational advantages.
The app and its content drew more than 20,000 downloads, in excess of 1.2-million mobile page views and more than 55,000 wagers. Additionally, the track continued its established social media expansion by conducting its third annual social media day, which transformed nearly 600 online community members into on-track patrons.
"We are delighted with the outstanding results of our 2012 race meet," summed up Mike Ernst, DMTC's executive vice president, finance and CFO. "Our racing, marketing and operations departments -- as well as our entire staff -- worked extremely hard on this memorable meet. With the tremendous support of our horsemen, our 75th anniversary marked a rewarding -- and as is usually the case at Del Mar -- entertaining summer of Thoroughbred sport."