Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Del Mar To Pay Its Horsemen $1-Million-Plus In Added Purses

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will pay its horsemen a record under-payment amount in excess of $1-million following the conclusion of its 37-day race meeting on Wednesday.

The payment, which will see owners receive at least an additional 8% on top of their overnight purse earnings during the seven-week session, was realized because of record purses, good field size and solid wagering numbers during the track’s 72nd season.

“This has been a delightful surprise for myself and others,” said Del Mar’s vice president for racing and racing secretary Tom Robbins. “We had real concerns coming into this meet – regarding both our horse inventory and the economics we all are facing these days -- but the response by our horsemen and our fans has turned a difficult scenario into one of the most positive in Del Mar’s history.”

Despite dire predictions, Del Mar was able to increase its field size – from 8.2 to 8.3 per race – while running virtually the same number of races it had in 2010. Additionally, though overall handle numbers have slipped slightly from last year’s figures, the track will finish its meeting averaging more than a California high of $11-million per afternoon at the betting windows, a feat that easily surpassed projections.

Del Mar representatives and those from the Thoroughbred Owners of California will sit down once the final results are in and work out the exact numbers of the underpayment following the meet. Checks are likely to be issued to those owners who won overnight purse monies at the stand by November.

Del Mar’s purses for 2011 will be well above the $600,000 per day mark, readily establishing a single-season record for the seaside oval. Last year its daily purses averaged $556,324. Its overnight purses this summer are not only the highest ever offered in California, they are the highest currently offered by any track in the country.

A reflection of what those purses have meant has been shown in the bustle of claiming activity during the meet, producing numbers that hail back to several seasons ago before economic conditions contracted all around the country. Last year the track saw 141 claims recorded for a total of $3,635,500. This summer, though Sunday’s 35th racing card, there have been 238 claims made for a total of $5,764,500.

Track officials pointed to several additional innovations put in place for the meeting -- often in conjunction with its partners at the Thoroughbred Owners of California -- that have drawn positive feedback from the frontside to the backside and helped key the surge in business.

Foremost among the creative changes was the track’s unique “Ship and Win” program that rewarded horsemen bringing runners from out of state with a guaranteed DMTC payment of $1,000, enhanced further through a TOC financed extra offering the possibility of a 20% boost in purse monies won in the shippers initial start. The program drew more than 100 additional horses to the meet with many of them making more than one start during the course of the summer. Racing secretary Robbins credited the incentive arrangement with helping to fill races that otherwise would not have run and providing spice to bettors looking for different angles in the handicapping puzzles.

Additionally – again in conjunction with the TOC – the track offered an “automatic $50,000 carryover” in its Sunday Pick Six pools and saw a 15% boost in bets for the popular exotic on days when there wasn’t a “true” carryover. Further, there were two separate incidents of additional carryovers coming out of the “seeded” Sundays that led to massive Pick Six pools the following racing day.

Another change that met with positive feedback from horsemen has been the institution of the track’s unique “Winners Bar” on the third level of the Clubhouse where winning connections adjourn following winner’s circle ceremonies to be toasted with free champagne and see reruns of their horse’s victory on an in-house TV.

The winner’s circle ceremonies themselves have proven even more popular because they all come with a classy commemorative bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon straight from the heart of Kentucky, the result of a partnership that Del Mar and one of the nation’s oldest and most successful distilleries instituted at the start of this season.

Further, working through a sponsorship with the TVG horse racing network, the track was able to maintain the purse on its signature race – the TVG Pacific Classic – at $1,000,000, the only race in the west carrying such an incentive for older horses. The race is the showcase event on a robust stakes schedule featuring 42 races worth more than $7-million.

“Our horsemen have been fantastic at this meet,” Robbins added. “They have responded well beyond our expectations to the Del Mar experience. This is a special place with a wonderful appreciation for our sport and the people who take part in it. It isn’t hard to understand why those in our industry want to be part of it. Running your horse in front of large, cheering crowds; racing in one of the prettiest settings in the world; vying for the largest purses in the country. In the end, what’s not to like about Del Mar?”

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