DEL MAR — Since Del Mar Thoroughbred Club kicked off its 81st summer meet on July 10 with no fans in the stands due to a resurgence of COVID-19 cases statewide, some aspects of horse racing were forced to make adjustments.
And that includes the world of sports betting.
Duke Racing Selections, a longtime handicapping and race-selection card service at Southern California racetracks, has taken its services online.
Carlsbad resident John Acquarelli, owner of Duke Racing Selections, said despite the drastic changes to the racing season, customers can still purchase his popular “Duke’s Piks” selection sheet on his website.
“Not all is lost,” Acquarelli told The Coast News. “The cool thing about horse racing is that you don’t necessarily have to be at the track. You can still get our picks and bet at home through online betting.”
Acquarelli, a retired schoolteacher at St. Patrick’s Catholic School, has owned Duke Selections for the past 27 years. Growing up, his father owned horses and took Acquarelli and his friends to the racetrack.
In 1977, Acquarelli started working nights and weekends selling tickets and parking cars at Del Mar Racetrack. After years spent talking horses, Acquarelli began placing bets and eventually learned how to figure handicaps and make winning selections.
“If you work at the racetrack and there is racing there, you have to bet on the horses,” Acquarelli said. “Not everybody does but that’s how you get started.”
Duke’s racing selection cards feature between 30 and 50 races in Del Mar, Los Alamitos and Pleasanton.
Following the invention of simulcast wagering, Acquarelli expanded to include racetracks from across the country, including Saratoga (N.Y.), Belmont (N.Y.), Gulf Stream (Fla.), Tampa Bay (Fla.), Arlington (Ill.) and the legendary Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
“When you have so many races, people just buy the card because it’s impossible to play every race at every stadium,” Acquarelli said.
And of course, all of these offerings require significant hours researching and handicapping to determine which horses are most likely to win, which Acquarelli said is basically a full-time job.
This past weekend at Del Mar Racetrack featured 10 races each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the 26th Opening Day Hats Contest was held via social media, with contestants sharing photos using the hashtag #DelMarHatsContest and tagging @DelMarRacing in the photos on Twitter and Instagram.
However, the track has experienced some challenges since Opening Day on July 10. Star jockeys Victor Espinoza and Flavien Prat both tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend. As of Wednesday, a total of 15 jockeys have tested positive for the virus, although many have not reported symptoms.
In response to the uptick in cases, Del Mar Racetrack has preemptively suspended racing until July 24. However, Duke Racing Selections will still feature races at Saratoga, Gulf Stream, Pleasanton and Los Alamitos on his website during the suspension.
Despite a shaky start to the summer season, Acquarelli said he feels fortunate the horse racing industry can still provide a product without fans.
But he warned that if COVID-19 isn’t under control soon, San Diego area hotels, businesses, golf courses, zoos, parks, entertainment venues and restaurants could be facing serious financial straits.
“Next year, hopefully, this will be over with because Del Mar has the Breeders’ Cup and that will make a tremendous impact if they don’t have horse racing,” Acquarelli said. “You know how many thousands of people come for that? People stay (in the area) for a week (or longer). It would be a huge impact if they don’t stop COVID-19.”
Visit www.dukepiks.com for more information on Duke Racing Selections
This article features reports from The Coast News wire services.