They did it again.
For the fourth consecutive year, opening day of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club meeting established a new all-time on-track attendance record, when 47,339 showed up to celebrate the start of the seaside racetrack's 75th anniversary meeting. That was about 750 more than last year's 46,588, and was the eighth consecutive 40,000-plus attendance opener and 10th time in the last 11 years Del Mar surpassed 40,000.
The flood of local television and radio coverage, which began early Wednesday morning, virtually implores San Diegans to take a day off work, put on their latest fashions, and come out to where the Turf Meets the Surf for a day of horses, gambling, and fun. It is one of the biggest days of the year for any event in San Diego, and even an explicably scheduled afternoon game by Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres couldn't slow down the juggernaut that opening day at Del Mar has become.
Del Mar's curtain-raiser, which track CEO Joe Harper calls a “phenomenon that's hard to describe,” wasn't always this big. Forty years ago, in 1972, when there was no intertrack wagering in the Los Angeles area for Del Mar's races, and well before ADW wagering, opening day attracted only 16,149 fans.
Ten years later, in 1982, the opening day crowd grew to 24,744. In 1992, the fifth year of Intertrack wagering in the state, Del Mar's opener attracted 26.982. It hit 30,000 for the first time in 1998, and by 2002 had grown to 37,439.
Del Mar hit the 40,000 on-track number for the first time in 2003, when 40,682 attended, topped 45,000 in 2010, and edged closer to 50,000 in the last two years.
Handle figures from opening day are not yet available.
Part of the attraction of opening day is The One and Only Truly Fabulous Hats Contest, which drew about 500 contestants in 2012. This year's grand prize winner was Daniella Lopez of Imperial Beach, Calif., who designed and created her elaborate entry and matching dress.
For more color on Del Mar's opening day program, read Jay Privman's Daily Racing Form report.
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