Officials from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which operates Del Mar Race Track north of San Diego, announced they will open their 2020 summer meet eight days earlier than planned. In addition, the racetrack plans on running three days per week instead of its customary five.

Del Mar Opening
Del Mar’s summer meet will sprint out of the gate eight days earlier than originally scheduled. The iconic California track will race for nine weeks this summer instead of eight, with six fewer races. (Image: KC Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Del Mar will open Friday, July 10, and run Friday-Saturday-Sunday through Labor Day. The track will race without spectators and with the customary sanitary and distancing protocols employed in the COVID-19 era. Only essential personnel needed for racing purposes will be allowed on-site. Unlike at Santa Anita Park, however, jockeys will not quarantine on-site.

Known as the place “where the turf meets the surf” due to its seaside location overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Del Mar enjoyed the benefit of seeing how Santa Anita, Los Alamitos, and Golden Gate Fields dealt with the coronavirus. DMTC officials simply went to school in the safety and protocol department, worked with San Diego County health officials – most notably at nearby Scripps Health in La Jolla – and put together its safety plan.

Fewer Race Days, but Bigger Weekend Cards

Del Mar’s new schedule reveals 291 races over nine weeks, six fewer than last year’s 297 run over eight weeks. But track officials plan building big cards using the more than 1,700 horses on-site. The plan is to run 10 races on Fridays and Sundays, with 11 on Saturdays.

“We’re coming back and we’re going to put on the most unique show in Del Mar history,” said Del Mar CEO Joe Harper in a statement.  “It’s going to look different, it’s going to feel different, but it’s going to be first-class horse racing at Del Mar and in these unusual times, that’s something to look forward to.”

Del Mar Gets a Derby Prep

The race everyone is looking forward to is the Grade 1 Pacific Classic. The track’s flagship event is scheduled for Aug. 22, according to Del Mar’s website. Track officials said the full stakes schedule – with minor modifications – will be released on Friday. That includes the Shared Belief Stakes, which became a 50-20-10-5-point Kentucky Derby prep when Churchill Downs released its preliminary list of Derby Trail races.

“We want to begin the meet earlier and offer horsemen the same number of opportunities to run as we have for the last several summer seasons,” said Tom Robbins, DMTC’s executive vice president of racing in a statement. “We’ve had inquiries for new trainers from across the country who are interested in sending horses to Del Mar, which is encouraging.”

Robbins said the cancellation of the San Diego County Fair, held on the same site as the racetrack, allowed maintenance crews extra time to prepare track surfaces. It also means trainers can get their horses on-site earlier.

Fan-Free Meet Produces a Financial Hole

No fans buying tickets, paying for parking, and spending money on food and drinks means Del Mar is staring at a $17 million loss, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. But horses racing and fans betting, even remotely through advance deposit wagering (ADW), provides a cushion. DMTC officials said 90% of 2019’s wagers were made off-track.

“Walking away from $17 million in revenue is challenging,” Josh Rubinstein, DMTC’s president and COO, told the Union-Tribune. “There’s some savings with staffers not here, but it’s not $17 million. Racing is huge.”