Del Mar's annual summer meeting came to a close Sept. 4 and the most crucial issue facing the seaside racetrack saw a marked improvement.
There were six equine fatalities during the summer meeting that began July 19—four during racing, one during training, and one a "sudden death" in the barn area, according to California Horse Racing Board equine medical director Rick Arthur—after a 2016 summer season that saw 17 deaths.
"The one that we were really concerned about—No. 1 on our list—was to get the injuries down and they've really went down," said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president Joe Harper. "I just want to thank (track superintendent) Dennis Moore and his crew for doing an amazing job of getting this track into shape and keeping it there."
Average daily all-sources handle ($12,494,000) increased 5.1% compared to 2016 and average field size increased from 8.3 last year to 8.6 in 2017. The track's "Ship and Win" program, which rewards out-of-state horses who enter and win at Del Mar, attracted 109 new runners during the meet's 36 days. In 2016 the program drew 120 runners for 39 racing days.
"Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised (about the increased field size), but I was," Harper said. "I think the racing office did an amazing job. (Tom Robbins) and David (Jerkens) are two of the best in the business."
With the track's first Breeders' Cup on the horizon in November, putting out the best, safest product was a priority.
"(With the) Breeders' Cup, we better be on our 'A' game," Harper said. "I was very, very pleased with just about everything I saw this year. ... We had very few problems, and Del Mar always seems to (have) some strange problems, and we really didn't have any."
The competition for top trainer came down to the last race Monday, as Touching Rainbows' victory tied trainer Phil D'Amato with Richard Baltas for the lead at 18 wins. Baltas, who won earlier in the card with Kathy's Song, earned the first training title of his career.
"I went out with a win and (D'Amato) went out with a win," Baltas said. "It's not an easy meet to win and I'm just happy for my staff and all the work they put in. It's really rewarding. It was a tight race and I've never been in this position before, so it feels really good. It means a lot."
The race for top jockey went to Flavien Prat, who pulled clear late with seven wins in the meet's final three days to finish with 35. Rafael Bejarano and apprentice Evin Roman finished tied for second with 29 wins apiece.
"To win the title was what we wanted to do," said Prat's agent, Derek Lawson. "That was the goal he set after sharing it last year with Rafael."
Hronis Racing, on the strength of Stellar Wind's victory in the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1) and Accelerate's upset win over Arrogate in the TVG San Diego Handicap (G2), was the top owner by earnings ($854,400) and in total wins (7), two victories clear of a three-way tie for second between Reddam Racing, DP Racing, and Calumet Farm.