Daily all-sources handle during the 43-day meet dipped 7% to $13,001,768, down from the $13,985,027 recorded during 2007, still yielding the sixth-highest in track history. Attendance at the California seaside track declined 4.3% to 16,002 from 16,719.
But Joe Harper, president and general manager of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, felt the meet was still strong in light of tough economic conditions and declining numbers at most racetracks.
"No doubt, we were swimming against a strong (economic) current this year,” said Harper in a news release. “But we swam well and we will get stronger because of it. While this economy has threatened to drown a lot of folks out there, we held our own and we don't need to be making any excuses for that."
Daily on-track handle closed at $2,167,028, a decline of 11% from $2,437,225 in 2007. Daily average off-track handle, which included wagering from off-track wagering parlors and advance deposit wagering entities, was $4,621,388, also a decline of 11% from the $5,198,325 in 2007.
Despite a pre-meet attempt to open up its signal to more ADWs, such as was experienced for California tracks during an “experimental” effort in 2007 and early 2008, Del Mar was again limited by an exclusive contract to TVG, and was not available to several Internet and telephone wagering sites. Daily average ADW wagering on the Del Mar meet in 2008 was $1,305,454, a dip of 3.5% from the $1,352,949.
"We've turned in so many positive numbers for so long here we've all but come to expect it," Harper said. "But in a lot of ways, given what's going on in Southern California and all across the country right now from the largest counting houses down to the smallest wallets, this was one of our best seasons ever.”
Del Mar said in its release that track's starters-per-race was even with last year's average of 8.6, claiming there was an early slowdown at the entry box due to “trepidation” by horsemen following a state mandated ban on steroids that went into effect at the beginning of the meet. The track said it averaged nearly 9.5 runners per race in the final 10 days of the meet.
The number of entries in stakes races were up from 8.02 per race in 2007 to 8.42 in 2008. That number jumped even more when Polytrack only was considered -- with the 8.48 figure of 2007 increasing to 9.00 in 2008.
The track claims its second season with its Polytrack surface was an improvement over 2007, when slow times drew criticism from some horsemen. Without citing data, Del Mar said the amount of overall catastrophic breakdowns “were also lowered.”
"We were better with our Polytrack this year as we work our way through the learning curve something like this takes," Harper said. "We've introduced science into the equation and our maintenance people are becoming more and more confident in how to make it work. And we'll be better yet next year. We're on a positive run with this major investment we've made in our horses and riders."