DEL MAR — Del Mar Racetrack set an Opening Day record last weekend with over $20 million in bets made as fans made their joyous return to the legendary racing venue.
Del Mar surpassed its previous handle record of $16,500,914 set in 2016 with a total of $21,339,6453 in bets made this past Friday, July 16.
It was the first time fans were allowed back into the grandstands of Del Mar since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fans were ready to lay their money down.
“You can’t get much better than this,” Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said in a press release. “I’d have to say it was nothing short of terrific.”
Del Mar totaled a handle of $80,517,984 over the three-day opening weekend.
“We try to come to Opening Day every year and it just felt so good to be able to walk through the gates again,” local Oscar Whelan said of his return to the track. “I wouldn’t say I bet any more than usual, but I was definitely happier than I’ve ever been handing my money over at the window.”
One of the early winners of the day was Going to Vegas, a 4-year old bay filly from Kentucky owned by Abbondanza Racing, Medallion Racing and MyRacehorse. Bing Bush, a local attorney, is co-owner of Abbondanza Racing and is a regular at the track every season.
“We’ve been to Opening Day for many years of course, but I’ve never had a horse win on Opening Day,” Bush told The Coast News. “There’s nothing like winning at Del Mar.”
Following the win, Bush embraced a Del Mar security guard who has been working at the track for 15 years and exclaimed with great joy, “Can you believe it?”
Bush was surrounded in the winner’s circle with a multitude of family and friends following the win jockeyed by veteran Umberto Rispoli. Holding his bottle of Kentucky whiskey high, it almost felt like the pandemic never happened.
“Abbondanza is an Italian word and it means abundance. And I can say that we certainly had an abundance of joy after that race,” Bush said.
The return of fans to the grandstands of Del Mar marks another milestone for San Diego County as it recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 22nd District Agricultural Association, the state body that oversees the Del Mar Fairgrounds, was faced with major financial losses in 2020 due to the pandemic and is still projecting losses for this year despite the return of fans to the track and the addition of the Homegrown Fun event held this summer at the fairgrounds.
However, the fair board has projected nearly $7.5 million from food and beverage sales from horse racing events this year with fans back for both the summer and fall racing season and with Del Mar hosting this year’s Breeders’ Cup in November.
“For me, the greatest single thing about thoroughbred racing is that it brings together people of every socioeconomic background,” Bush said. “It’s just wonderful to have Del Mar back. You could feel the electricity in the air.”
Racing continues at Del Mar this Friday with the first post at 4 p.m. The summer season runs through Sept. 6.
Del Mar hosts the Breeders’ Cup this year for the first time since 2017 on Nov. 5 and 6.
EXTRA: Read Felix Taverna’s column “Inside Information” for fun highlights from opening weekend at the Del Mar Racetrack.