Del Mar's 'Ship and Win' Program Succeeding

Runners from out-of-state are rewarded with bonus payments when they start.

Del Mar Turf Club reported that its “Ship and Win” program – in which horsemen bringing runners from out-of-state are rewarded with bonus payments when those horses start during the current meet – is proving successful.

According to the track, through Aug. 10, the 16th day of the 37-day meeting, Del Mar already had as many “new” runners this year – 50 – as it did throughout all of 2010.

“We had hopes this program would prove beneficial in reversing the decline of stock on the circuit,” stated Del Mar’s executive vice president for racing Tom Robbins. “And while it certainly hasn’t been a full answer to our needs, it has been a solid step in the right direction.”

A release said the 50 out-of-staters that have started at the summer session each earned an automatic check for $1,000 when they broke from the gate. Additionally, under the program’s further provision that a bonus of 20% would be placed on top of purse monies earned in their initial starts, an extra $37,564 in payments have gone to the connections of those horses. The total amount expended on “Ship and Win” horses thus far is $87,564, according to DMTC.

“Obviously, we’ve attracted new folks to the meet with this program,” Robbins said. “But we’ve also encouraged our local owners and trainers to go out and get runners from elsewhere. Already, there have been four or five occasions where I’ve been able to fill a race because we had an out-of-state horse thrown into the mix. If they hadn’t been there, the race wouldn’t have been carded.”

For example, Robbins said Mike Mitchell, who is on the verge of becoming Del Mar’s leading trainer all time for wins, has started six “new” horses so far that he claimed or purchased privately elsewhere.

Trainers John Sadler, Tom Proctor, Kristin Mulhall, Mike Puype, and Ron Ellis all have started out-of-state horses in the opening weeks of the meet, according to Robbins.

Trainer Vann Belvoir, a former rider who is based in the Pacific Northwest, brought 15 horses to Del Mar partially due to the “Ship and Win” program.

“The number one reason we came was because of the purses,” said Belvoir. “They are eye-popping. But then the bonus program helped, too. It surely didn’t hurt to have the extra money added for coming, but it was even moreso a case of knowing you were being encouraged to come on board that was important. A lot of times you can’t be sure about a new place, but this made it plain that you were welcome. That helped me sell several of my owners.”

Through the first 16 days of racing , Belvoir had two wins from 13 starters, with three seconds and one third-place finish.

“We have a good partner in this arrangement in the Thoroughbred Owners of California,” said Joe Harper, Del Mar’s CEO, president, and general manager. “They were willing to team up with us for this and because of their help we got it up and running. When people work together in this business, good things can happen.”

Robbins, who has headed Del Mar’s racing office for the past 31 years -- 22 of them as racing secretary -- cited two additional residual advantages of the program.

“Many of these horses are going to run more than once at the meet,” he said. “A second or third start is more than likely with most of them. So the benefits continue to ripple out. On top of that, several of the new horsemen who’ve come on board have brought additional horses, ones that don’t qualify for the bonuses, but who are now here and ready to run. It can make a difference.”

Various studies on pari-mutuel betting have shown that each additional horse added to a field can account for anywhere between 20 and 30% in added handle, numbers that indicate the “Ship and Win” horses can all but pay for themselves with their starts at the meet, the DMTC release said.