Del Mar began its 75th summer season on a Thursday this year, but just as it has for the better part of two decades, the shore track broke running with "up" numbers proving boss despite the opening day shift.
Whereas the seaside oval bypassed its normal Wednesday beginning in order to have an extra day to ready itself following an extended San Diego Fair season, the opening four days of the session proved solid on its ledgers even though it lost a day and a total of five races in the first of seven weeks that comprise the 2014 meeting.
The track's accounting department came up with an apples-to-apples comparison of the numbers by taking the opening Wednesday from 2013, dropping the following Thursday, and matching up four days to four days in its calculations. When it did so, the numbers showed on-track handle up slightly at 2.1 percent at a daily average of $3,090,524 this year versus $3,025,849 in 2013.
The track's ADW numbers along with its Southern California ITW figures this season showed a notable gain of 7.9 percent with $4,563,058 accounted for this season as opposed to $4,228,012 last. Northern California and out-of-state numbers also rose and overall the track's full handle increased by 4.9 percent -- $14,697,782 in '14 over $14,007,511 in '13.
The track's attendance figures held firm in the four-day comparison with a daily average of 24,960 this year just besting 24,831 last year, an increase of 0.5 percent. Early attendance numbers always rotate around the track's Opening Day figures, which annually top all other tracks in the country. The 2013 Opening Day gathering was 43,030, while this summer's beginner was 42,021.
"We most certainly had a fine week to start the 2014 season," said Del Mar's executive vice president for racing Tom Robbins. "The support by our horsemen was not just good, it was terrific. We've got a full barn area, we've had full fields and the racing so far has been first-rate."
Mike Pegram, the president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the track's partner in providing its racing product, also saw nothing but good things in the track's quick start.
"Del Mar is a place where every horseman in California wants to win a race, so it is no surprise to see the positive participation by our owners and trainers in the first week of this new meet," he said. "We all appreciate the special atmosphere at this racing facility and we further appreciate the good attitudes and enthusiasm of the Del Mar staff and the Del Mar racing fans. It is a fine place to go racing."
Del Mar's field size was strong through the first four cards and a total of 40 races. The average there was 9.4 runners per race. Last summer through the first five days and 45 races the field size number was 8.8.
The track's "Ship and Win" program, now in its fourth summer, continued to provide encouragement to those following the circuit, as well as many new four-legged participants that add meat, potatoes and sweet spice to the racing stew. Through five racing days last year there were 28 "S&W" horses who had run at the session. This year after four days there have been 34. Each "S&W" horse banks a check for $1,000 for running, then those who win earn an extra 33 1/3 percent in purse money on top of their regular money.
It is notable that while the "four-to-four" comparison provides the best yardstick to measure last summer to this, a look at the "five to four" numbers only give further luster to the track's solid start. If the "five" of 2013 was put up against the "four" of 2014, the percentage of increases would prove even larger. On-track handle would be up over 13.0 percent, ADW and Southern California ITW figures would rise by 18.2 percent and the overall handle average would be a plus of 12.6 percent.