The years of the six-day racing week at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club apparently will come to an end.

Del Mar is in the process of asking authorities to go to a five-day race week and drop Monday racing, said track president Joe Harper on Friday.

“We’re worried we won’t be able to fill a race card one day,” said a source, who asked for anonymity.

The track, which will enter its third season with the synthetic Polytrack in 2009, saw its average starters per race drop from 8.63 in 2007 to 8.49 last year.

Del Mar has raced six days a week —- Wednesday through Monday —- since 1946, but a sluggish economy and smaller horse population have officials worried they will not be able to fill a six-day program.

“We’re still crunching the numbers to tell if we’re right, but I think we are,” said Harper, whose track’s handle dropped 7 percent in 2008. “If you are going to change something, the patron had better get a better deal, and we think the patron will get a better product. We also think the bottom line will do better.”

Del Mar, which opens July 22, will ask to drop six racing days, all Mondays. Del Mar is expected to race on Labor Day, Sept. 7. Its current 43-day meet is due to end Sept. 9.

Del Mar must get approval for this plan from its own board of directors, the Del Mar fair board, the state racetrack leasing commission and the California Horse Racing Board. Del Mar will meet with the fair board on March 10 and is expected to formally ask for the change at an April meeting of the CHRB.

In hopes of not losing too much revenue —- Del Mar averaged $8 million in handle on a corresponding six Mondays in 2008 —- by the dropped eight-race card per week, the track will ask to add one race on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. That would mean a net loss of five races per week or about 35 races for the entire meet.

Del Mar would also change its popular 4 p.m. post time on Fridays to 3:30 for the first four weeks of the meet and 3 p.m. for the final three weeks.

“We’re going to have more races on better days,” Harper said. “I think it’s a pretty good deal.”

Harper said Del Mar has been working with the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) during the process in order to have all parties on board.

“We still have some work to do,” Harper said. “I was up at Santa Anita on Thursday and didn’t get any negative feedback.

“We’re a pretty conservative group. We run a lean ship. We haven’t absolutely said we’re going to do this, but the economy isn’t a pretty picture.

“I expect questions (along the way), but we don’t make these kind of decisions or recommendations lightly.”

Peter Miller, who lives in Carlsbad and trains out of the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center in Bonsall, said he was in favor of the change.

“I think it’s a good idea and a good call,” said Miller, who finished tied for 11th in training standings last year with seven winners. “The horse population, economy and oversaturation of racing are all good reasons to give the horses and people a break. It’s never a vacation for the trainers and the help to come down to Del Mar and race six days a week. I’ve been hoping they would do this for years. I had hoped they would add weeks to the meet and not lose days, though.”

Harper said by state law Del Mar can only race seven weeks a year, so adding additional weeks would have to come through the legislature.

Oceanside’s Jeffrey Bloom, vice president of West Coast operations for West Point Thoroughbreds, believes the change will be good for the industry.

“The number of races we’re losing isn’t significant,” Bloom said. “I think it will be better from a fan standpoint and horse standpoint. It will rejuvenate everyone. I think you will see more robust fields and more competitive races.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Nahill at or (760) 740-3550.


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