Del Mar's Total Handle Down by Nearly 6%

Attendance and field size have increased slightly through the first 21 days of meet.

Overall handle figures at Del Mar this summer are down by 5.8% as the seaside track barrels into the second half of its 37-day stand.

At the conclusion of racing Aug. 17, total handle--the amount wagered from all sources--stood at $231,956,326 after 21 days. The daily average was $11,045,539. That compares to gross handle of $246,739,711 and an average of $11,730,711 through 21 days a year ago, according to figures provided by Del Mar.

On-track handle has declined 6.3%, from an average of $2,187,015 last year compared to $2,050,082 this year. At the same time, average attendance at Del Mar is up by 1% at 19,101 compared to 18,912 in 2010. Attendance at off-track sites in California has dropped 6.1% over last season.

"It doesn't really worry me too much," said Joe Harper, president and CEO for Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, discussing the decline. "We started out really strong but have seen things slow down recently, at just about the same time the (stock) market took its tumble. I don't know if that was connected."

"I'm not crying about any of our average numbers," Harper added, noting that more than $11 million was being wagered daily and attendance stood at more than 19,000. "When you consider all the factors, we're cooking along pretty good. We'd rather be cooking along a little better, of course."

Economic doldrums and a drop in the number of Pick 6 carryovers this season have contributed to the decline, Harper said. He said he was unsure how to gauge the effects of a longstanding boycott of California racing by the Horseplayers Association of North America. The boycott began at the beginning of the year in protest of an increase in the takeout rate on exotic wagers.

The additional takeout revenue is assigned directly to overnight purses, benefitting horse owners. Harper said the increase has given Del Mar the largest purses in the country, including Saratoga. He said based on the meet's handle so far, no adjustment in purse level should be necessary this season.

Harper also said he hoped negotiations by the racetracks with the Thoroughbred Owners of California would soon result in a reduction of some takeout rates on the exotics. Harper said he agrees with HANA that rates on some bets need to be adjusted downward "a bit."

"I can't disagree with them on a lot of the points they make," he said.

With Del Mar maintaining a five-day-a-week schedule, field size has remained steady at 8.2 starters per race in 2011 compared to 8.1 last year.

Harper said the "Ship and Win" program instituted by Del Mar to attract out-of-state horses has been beneficial to maintaining healthy field size. Under the scheme, horses from out-of-state earn an automatic $1,000 by making their next start at Del Mar. They are also eligible for an additional 20% bonus on purse money earned in that first start.