Following on the heels of a robust 2012 season, Del Mar did even better in 2013 with all key business categories finishing on the upswing as the track's 74th summer session came to a close Sept. 4.
"We have a great crew that runs this race meet, we have our outstanding California horsemen, and we have our enthusiastic Del Mar fans," said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President Joe Harper, in a statement following the conclusion of the 37-day meet. "When you put them all together at a place like Del Mar, you've got a great shot to have a real big winner."
Racing five days per week—the only major track in the state to do so—Del Mar registered an overall handle increase of 5.2% during its seven-week season, with a total of $482,336,877 in all-sources bets. The daily average handle amounted to $13,036,132.
Del Mar's advanced deposit wagering increased for the fifth consecutive year, showing a remarkable boost of 15.7% in 2013 to $3,202,719 per day. ADW topped the on-track wagering average of $2,452,080 per program, which was 3.7% better than last year's in-house handle.
Attendance, too, proved a plus, if only by a nose at the wire. The seaside track lured 653,259 fans through the gates during 2013, which bettered the 2012 count of 652,034. That was a daily average of 17,656, a 0.2% rise from last year's 17,623.
For the third year in a row, the track's field size showed growth. The average number of starters climbed from 8.66 in 2012 to 8.79 in 2013.
"Once again, our horsemen were terrific and their support allowed us to finish strong," said Tom Robbins, Del Mar's executive vice president for racing and racing secretary. "For the second year in a row we were able to run 11-race cards across the Labor Day weekend, a sure sign of good health at our meet.
"Our trackman Rich Tedesco and his crew did outstanding work with our main track and our turf superintendent Leif Dickinson was first-rate with our grass course—with even better things to come in that regard next season when we debut our new, wider course."
The track's field-size rise has moved in concert with its institution of the "Ship and Win" program that has drawn out-of-state runners to the meet. Initiated in 2011 with a $1,000 check and a 20% first-race purse bonus for the newcomers, it received a further boost in 2013 with a first-race bonus of 33.33%. The "Ship and Win" program this year accounted for 149 runners, compared to 137 in 2012 and 107 in 2011. But where a difference was markedly noted was in the number of Ship & Win victories. Last year that total was 13 winners; this year it jumped up to 24.
Rafael Bejarano completed consecutive riding titles in 2013, moving atop the jockey standings by winning four of the first six races in the second day of the meeting. He stayed there throughout the meet for his third Del Mar title overall. The 31-year old Peruvian finished the 37-day meet with 46 victories, compared to 52 in 2012. His victory margin was 18 over Martin Garcia.
Garcia’s 28 wins were one more than Victor Espinoza, who had three scores during the final card. Joe Talamo and Julien Leparoux tied for fourth with 25.
Leparoux, in his first full season at Del Mar, was the top stakes rider with seven victories, the clinchers coming aboard Diamond Bachelor in the Oak Tree Juvenile Turf Stakes and Tamarando in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) on closing day.
John Sadler started the meeting slowly with two wins from his first 23 starters, but assumed the lead July 31 and was never headed in recording his third Del Mar training title and first in four years. The 57-year-old native of Long Beach, a Pasadena resident, notched 27 wins to edge Doug O'Neill (24), with Hall of Famers Bob Baffert (23) and Jerry Hollendorfer (20) next. Defending champion Peter Miller was fifth with 16.
Sadler was also the top trainer for stakes victories with six. Among Sadler’s stakes highlights were victories by Kettle Corn in the San Diego Handicap, Vagabond Shoes in the Del Mar Handicap, and Ethnic Dance in the second division of the Del Mar Derby, all grade II events. Kettle Corn and stablemate You Know I Know were the 2-3 finishers in the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic (gr. I) won by Game On Dude Aug. 25.
Kosta and Pete Hronis, who race under the nom de course of Hronis Racing, won owners’ titles for purse earnings and overall victories. The brothers from Delano, Calif., banked $625,050 in purses and had six trips to the winner’s circle during the seven-week stand.
They became only the second set of brothers to take the money-won title without winning the Pacific Classic in the past 11 years. Cecil and Gary Barber had turned the trick in 2008.
While Hronis Racing was alone on top in the money category, they tied with two other owners for number of wins. The others were Nick Alexander and Kaleem Shah. But, with nine second-place finishes, as opposed to a single second-place finish for the other two, the Hornis’ were winners in that category, too.
Game On Dude, whose tour de force victory in the Pacific Classic completed his sweep of California's most prestigious races for older horses, was a unanimous choice as "Horse of the Meeting" and top older horse by vote of the media.
Ridden by Garcia for Baffert, Game On Dude simply ran away in Del Mar's signature race to win by a record 8 1/2 lengths in a time of 2:00.69 for the 1 1/4 miles. Owned by the partnership of Bernie Schiappa, Joe Torre, and the Mercedes Stable of Ernest Moody and Maria Mercedes Villa, the 6-year-old gelding added the Pacific Classic to previous wins in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup (both gr. I) to join Lava Man in 2006 as the only horses to sweep that California triple in the same year.