Del Mar’s opening: broken attendance records are a broken record

by | 07.19.2012 | 2:05am

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

  • stillriledup

     Great job from DMR to figure out a way to get this to be the place to be on this particular day. Now, its up to them to figure out a way to get those opening day people to come back more than once a year. That’s the goal.  Good start for the meet, hopefully they can keep up the momentum.

  • David

    As does the KY Derby, Keeneland and Saratoga will do tomorrow, the rite of summer that is Del Mar affirms racing as quality entertainment.  What it doesn’t do is make racing a 365-day US product.

  • Forthegood

    Make it all about the fans and see what happens!  Kudo’s again DelMar!

  • Glimmerglass

    I wholehearted agree. Horse racing, on both sides of the pond, can certainly make single events and even boutique race meets successful. Even a very brief meeting like Atlantic City has, with almost no publicity, still brings folks in.

    However there is fatigue with fans (and bettors) which will kick in as endless days stretch on. Saratoga might buck the trend by stretching out the days but off-setting that by higher purses and keeping the quality high.

    Del Mar to their strong credit has made the opener an event to be at and seen at despite the cards yesterday being thin before scratches and the purses anemic. 

  • Watcher

    This is great news for the sport, however I can’t help but feeling the loss of the “old Del Mar.”  In the sixties Del Mar was a quiet little town where the horses were often brought to the ocean for physical and mental therapy. Crowds were small and polite, traffic wasnt a bother, and celebrities mingled with the fans. The Del Mar yearling sale was heavily attended and patronized, and many outstanding racehorses were bought there.

    The only remnant of those days is Bing Crosby Hall, a large arena in which the yearling sale was held. It sits right beneath the clock tower in the parking lot.  I remember as a kid watching and hearing Desi Arnaz and Clement Hirsch in a loud shouting match, which culminated in Hirsch’s heart attack.  Too young to understand the conflict, I later learned that Arnaz was dating Mrs. Hirsch (and in fact, later married her).  Another redhead for Desi!  Neither will I forget young Luci trying to pull her dad from the bar on another occasion.  Desi owned Corona Stock Farm and stood Nashville. His trainer: Earl Mitchell, father of Mike.

    Fun days!

  • MA

    Too bad so few of those 47K can tell you what Santa Anita Park or Hollywood Park are.

  • Kris

    I would love to experience Del Mar on opening day, but the thought of dealing with the traffic after the races is enough to to give me a headache.  

  • s/s

    Opening day as usual was full of non interested folks there that don’t know the eating end of a horse from the other. Most were gone by the 6th race and the others were staggering around looking for a place to throw up. I wouldn’t put any credibility on attendance as its’ just San Diego partying.

  • David

    Wasn’t there on Wednesday but have been to several DM opening days; I hear you but the overview may be a bit harsh.   However, I’ve come to believe the euphoria from the few bright lights  – the Kentucky Derby, Keeneland, Saratoga, Del Mar and Breeders’ Cup – actually serve as a disincentive to enacting reform.  Credit to PR to covering it but Del Mar’s run up to Labor Day has little relationship to the health of the US t’bred racing industry as we know it.

  • Bobf83

    But they don’t bet.  If you divide the handle to the attendance the average bet per patron  is about $50.   On Saturday, with half the amount of people, the average bet was about $150.    

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