As Del Mar closed its 2010 race meeting, Joe Harper, CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, discussed the possible new horizons of California racing. Del Mar is on target to begin hosting the Oak Tree Racing Association meeting in 2012, while Santa Anita is looking for an expanded calendar and Hollywood Park may eventually be closed and developed.
"I think what makes sense in California is coming up with a calendar that we can live with, that’s good for racing in California," Harper said, "not just a segment of the horsemen or the tracks. We’ve got to strive toward that. Probably you’re looking at Golden Gate, Santa Anita, and Del Mar as being the three tracks left in California. I think we’ve got to come up with a schedule that keeps those three in the loop, whether it’s four days a week or five days or three."
Harper said that one of the reasons Oak Tree’s move from Hollywood to Del Mar has been delayed until 2012 is the permitting process Del Mar will have to go through to conduct racing during the fall.
"We’re in a very environmentally sensitive area," he said. "All of the permits are based on a seven-week meet. When you go into October, for some reason that’s considered a rain month, though it never rains here then. We felt that we would have to go out and renew some of those permits, and that usually takes a while. It’s just a question of going through the steps that you have to go through."
Harper would like to see the Breeders’ Cup held at Del Mar, the major obstacle being that the turf course would have to be enlarged.
"We’ve got a facility Breeders’ Cup would love," he said. "It’s got acres and acres of skyboxes and luxury suites and a big director’s room. It would be easy to adapt this place to tents and things like that. We’ve got more hotel rooms around here than perhaps any track in the country."
The 2010 meet was the fourth with a Polytrack surface. Harper continues to be pleased with the synthetic main track.
"Rich Tedesco did a great job after the first few days figuring out what needed to be done with it," said Harper. "The track, I think, was very consistent from then on, which is really what you’re looking for."
Del Mar had seven catastrophic injuries during the 2010 meet, five on Polytrack (four of those during the races) and two on the turf. In 2009, 12 of the 13 fatalities were on the Polytrack, four in the afternoon and eight during morning training hours. In 2006, the last year of a dirt surface, Del Mar lost 18 horses.
During the off season, fiber was added to the track. Harper said that Tedesco worked to get the proper mix of fiber and wax.
"Once the mix got right, I think it was a much more forgiving racetrack," said Harper.
Asked whether Del Mar might eventually switch back to dirt now that Santa Anita has committed to a dirt surface, Harper said, "As long as the statistics are showing how much safer it is than dirt, we’d be foolish to move to dirt. Never say never—obviously, we’ll see what Santa Anita does, how it plays. I will tell you, there were more complaints about the dirt here than about the Polytrack, at least this year. There were more injuries on dirt. It was tougher to keep it more consistent. Statistically, across the country, you’re safer on Polytrack."