— As much as racing at Del Mar is about the beach atmosphere, the pageantry and the beauty of thoroughbreds racing at 40 mph, it’s really about the action.

That would be the betting action.

It’s the toteboard, the trip to the window and then collecting on the winning ticket or tossing the losing one.

It’s not exactly the halfway mark of the Del Mar meet. That happens Saturday, fifth race. But it’s close enough to look at the racing trends over the first 16 days of the 37 days at the beach. Also, new harrowing machinery might impact the second half of racing and influence a player’s pick of a winner.

After a slow start, favorites are finding the winner’s circle at Del Mar.

“The first week here, favorites were winning at like 14 percent,” said Bob Ike, one of The San Diego Union-Tribune’s on-site handicappers.

Bleary-eyed chalk players who studied the Daily Racing Form needed ATMs. Long-shot hunch players who bet favorite numbers, names or colors loved it.

After Wednesday’s races, favorites have won 31.8 percent of the time (47 of 148). The winning percentage for favorites on Polytrack is slightly lower at 31 percent (35 of 113).

Ike said the slow start for favorites on Del Mar’s synthetic surface had a lot to do with more horses competing here the first few weeks, leading to larger fields that were more difficult to handicap.

“That was a reflection of changing tracks and full fields here after Hollywood Park,” Ike said. “It wasn’t a reflection of the track. It was just more competitive here. And it’s a lot harder to pick winners when there are 12 horses in a race as opposed to four or five.”

The perception that the race cards are fuller this year at Del Mar after the track dropped one racing day a week is true – but just barely.

Tom Robbins, Del Mar’s racing secretary, said Del Mar averaged 8.3 horses a race last year compared with 8.6 horses per race this year.

If there has been one trend, it’s that the track has started to get more consistent, Ike said. Times are faster and more consistent than they were the first two years of Polytrack at Del Mar and even better than they were at the beginning of the meet this year.

“I just went though all my programs and I found maybe two days where there was a closer’s bias on the track this meet,” Ike said. “Some days it plays on the slow side, especially early in the week.”

Jon Lindo, another of the Union-Tribune’s handicappers, said new machinery brought in from Canada has produced a more consistent Polytrack surface. But Lindo said bettors should check the first couple of races each day to see if speed horses are holding or closers are chasing them down. He’s always looking for trends during a day’s races.

“You need an open mind,” Lindo said.

Robbins said the track’s newest machine is a “kinder” one that doesn’t dig up the track as much. He said the track crew here continually is learning how to adapt to the changing conditions of the coastal weather and the sea-level track. The latest machine is another part of Del Mar’s “arsenal,” Robbins said.

“It’s a cultivator,” Robbins said. “We can quantify how deep we want to go into the surface. On Mondays and Fridays we go a little deeper . . . They’ve been using it at Woodbine and Arlington Park, and Keeneland just got one.”

Ike said all this plays into how handicappers pick.

“As long as the track stays fair and consistent, as long as times are relatively normal to what we’re used to on a regular dirt track, I don’t have a problem with it,” Ike said.

Ed Zieralski: (619) 293-1225;


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