Fans Excited To Return To The Stands On Del Mar Opening Day
Fans were excited to be back at the Del Mar Racetrack on Opening Day on Friday. It was something they couldn't do last year because of the pandemic.
It was another sign that things are returning to somewhat normal, though there were still signs that the pandemic is still not over.
For its 82nd racing season, the track will operate at full “seated” capacity, which means no general standing admissions will be sold.
"It's not going to be a normal year," executive vice president for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Craig Dado said. "We do have COVID protocols in place that say we can only allow people in to sell out all of the seats, no walking around."
But Dado said that could change later in the season and general admission may be a possibility.
Opening Day still included the traditional hat contest, spruced-up fans, and protesters greeting visitors at the entrance gates.
“Horses die racing at this track every day that they’re raced," said Ellen Ericksen, an animal rights activist, who has been protesting horse races for years. "Their bodies start being abused around 16 to 18 months old and at that age, they are trained and raced so hard that they have repetitive stress factors in their ankles and their legs.”
Oscar De La Torre, a counter-protestor and worker advocate, said a ban on horse racing impacts more than just the animals.
“We take care of the horses, there is no animal abuse," he said. "The horses get taken care of here in the racetrack better than most human beings out on the streets. So it's false, it's a false narrative that we're abusing the horses, that we’re drugging them, this is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the country.”
Dado said he’s proud of Del Mar’s track record.
“For the third year in a row we have been named the safest race track in the country," he said. "And that is something we're really really proud of on the equine side."
Dado was basing that on data released by The Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database.
There was one racing death at Del Mar in 2020, two in 2019 and three in 2018, according to the Thoroughbred Club.
The protestors, however, didn't deter any fans. Mike Smith is a regular at the races and is happy to be back in person.
“It’s a great day, last year it got bounced," he said. "Look around today, everyone's looking good, having a good time."
Smith has been going to races for a few years. Last year, with no spectators in the stands, he placed bets at home online.
Last year, betting was up despite the pandemic — something that surprised Dado.
"The betting was actually up 10% during COVID, which was interesting," he said. "I guess a lot of people were home, with nothing to do, so they were betting on horse races right."
Only about 15% of betting is done on track, he said.