Based purely on numbers, it may appear that the Del Mar summer meeting was not a successful one.
Attendance was down approximately 10 percent going into closing weekend, while overall handle was down 10.9 percent after showing gains in 2017 and 2018. Field sizes dipped slightly from 8.8 horses per race in 2018 to around eight horses per race this summer. There were 21 fewer races run this year as opposed to 2018.
The assumption Del Mar had a poor summer meet would be far from the truth, however.
Coming off the disastrous Santa Anita winter/spring meet where 30 horses suffered catastrophic injuries and weeks of racing were cancelled due to concerns about track condition, the emphasis at Del Mar was on safety, with close scrutiny by racing officials and the general public alike.
After completing 36 days of racing, there was not a single catastrophic injury during a race at the meet. There were four fatalities during morning training, but two of those fatalities were due to a freak head-on collision similar to a car crash on the freeway.
Del Mar streamlined the entry examination process, allowing its five-man committee time to examine and consider horses after entries were drawn. The process helped reduce the number of horses that were arbitrarily denied the chance to race.
The result was Del Mar being able to safely complete the five-days-a-week racing schedule that looked like a formidable obstacle going into opening day.
Trainer Peter Miller, who won Monday’s Grade I Del Mar Futurity with longshot Nucky and who was among the top conditioners again this summer despite keeping 33 percent of his stable in Kentucky, told the San Diego Union-Tribune “Del Mar went about it the right way.
“They tried to run Santa Anita like it was Gulfstream Park,” said Miller. “I tried to tell them, Gulfstream Park is a cactus. You can’t kill it. Santa Anita’s a rose. It’s very fragile. That has to do with the inventory and numbers of horses.
“It was nerve-wracking for sure, coming in here. The industry has changed, and some of it is for the better. I think we needed it to improve. We needed to look at ourselves with a critical eye. Unfortunately, it took a catastrophic Santa Anita meet to do that. It shouldn’t have, but it did.”
Del Mar upgraded its “Ship and Win” purse bonus program to supplement the horse population. And Del Mar’s exposure to East Coast-based trainers in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup led several trainers, including Chad Brown, to send horses to Del Mar to compete in Stakes this summer.
The Del Mar summer meet was one where the numbers truly won’t tell the entire story.
A horseplayer’s friend
What do horseplayers do now that Saratoga and Del Mar have ended? Take a look at the five-day Kentucky Downs meet.
European-style racing over the winding, undulating turf brings a welcome change of pace, and there are other perks that make Kentucky Downs a “must-play” for horseplayers.
Takeout is the most important factor. Win/Place/Show bets have a takeout rate of 16 percent. Exactas have a takeout rate of 18.25 percent. The $.50 minimum Pick Fours offered on races two thru five and the last four races have a 14 percent takeout. That same low rate is applied to the two $.50 minimum Pick Fives each day. The early Pick Five is on the first five races and the late Pick Five is on the final five races. All other exotic wagers have a very reasonable 19 percent takeout.
Top level racing with contentious fields leads to attractive payoffs. The 10 $.50 Trifectas on opening Saturday had an average payoff of $437.08, and the eight $.50 Pick Threes had an average payoff of $370.51. The early $.50 Pick Four paid $4,329.50. The late Pick Four returned $2,066.10.
Best payoffs? The early Pick Five paid a whopping $59,787.55 and the late Pick Five returned $10,670.95.
Racing resumes at Kentucky Downs on Thursday, and the biggest day of the meeting will be this Saturday with the $1 million Kentucky Turf Cup and the $700,000 Runhappy Turf Sprint. Stormy Liberal, winner of the last two Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprints, will try to earn a fees paid berth into the same race this year with a win in the Turf Sprint.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Kentucky Downs Thursday race 9 – Mr. Misunderstood (No. 3): Trainer Brad Cox got off to a good start at the meet with two wins opening day. This tough gelding loves to win races and fits the race conditions (not won a Sweepstakes in 2019) perfectly.