Nearing the midpoint of its 43-day season with a new Polytrack racing surface in place, Del Mar officials reported increases Aug. 10 in handle and attendance -- and no catastrophic breakdowns on the synthetic main track.
Through the 20th day of the session, Del Mar shows a 3.1% gain in its on-track handle. The daily average rose from $2,300,444 in 2006 to $2,372,737 so far this year. Overall handle figures are even stronger, reflecting a 5.8% increase. The daily all-source handle jumped from $12,295,760 to $13,009,606. Additionally, the track reports a 2.6% gain in its on-track attendance, with a daily average of 16,233 compared with last year’s 20-day number of 15,822.
"We're always pleased when the handle and attendance numbers come in on the plus side," said Joe Harper, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president and general manager, in a statement.
Harper noted that since the start of racing July 18, Del Mar’s Polytrack safety record has been perfect.
Through the first 20 days of the meet in 2006, nine horses suffered catastrophic injury on its dirt main track in afternoon racing or morning workouts and had to be euthanized. This year no horses have been lost either racing or training on the engineered surface that consists of sand, rubber, carpet fibers and wax.
"More than $9 million was spent for a new Polytrack surface, and it is working – our horses and riders have been safe," Harper said.
Dr. Rick Arthur, California's equine medical director, has been on site and closely monitoring the all-weather track at Del Mar.
"I'm very pleased with what we’ve seen so far," Arthur said. "I've spoken to many of my veterinarian colleagues on the backstretch, and most of them are cautiously optimistic. We are still early in this process, but so far the results are very encouraging.
"I'll give you an example: Right now if you want to have an X-ray taken of your horse at the hospital on the backstretch, you can have it done today. Before it might take you two or three days to get in. The injuries aren’t there now, and that’s a good thing. We are protecting our horses and riders, and anything we can do in that regard is a good thing."
Del Mar did not provide horse breakdown figures from races contested on its turf course.
After a slow start, average field size has increased to the point where it now is approaching last year’s number of 8.6 per race. As low as 8.1 earlier in the current meet, it now stands at 8.4 per race.
"Our horsemen are starting to respond positively to Polytrack," said Tom Robbins, vice president for racing. "Understandably, they were a bit hesitant to begin the meet. They wanted time to train on the track and see how their horses handled it.
"Now our work tabs are running well ahead of last year, and just in the last few days our entries have picked up, too. I think you’re going to see our average field size go ahead of the 2006 numbers shortly."
In 28 days of training thus far at the meet, 3,915 horses – an average of 140 per day – have worked on the Polytrack. Last year at this point there were 29 days of training, with a total of 3,554 workers on the dirt track for a daily average of 122. Because of heavy usage of the old dirt track, Del Mar had three half-hour renovation breaks during its typical 4:30-to-10 a.m. training period. With the all-weather surface, only one break is necessary, allowing for an additional hour of training each day.
Race times have slowed on the Polytrack roughly an average of two seconds per race in sprints and three seconds in two-turn contests.
The Equibase study for the end of the track’s third racing week showed an average time for 5 1/2 furlongs of 1:06.90, as compared to last year’s 1:04.85, while the average time for six furlongs has slowed from 1:11.41 to 1:13.24. In route races the average time for a mile last year was 1:38.57. That has slowed to 1:41.61 on the Polytrack. The 1 1/16-mile times have gone from an average of 1:45.12 in 2006 to 1:48.29 this season.