Fans, Horsemen Alike Ready To Celebrate ‘Real’ Del Mar Summer

Peter Miller won a fourth Del Mar summer season training title in 2020, equaling the number of fall crowns for him at the place Miller refers to as his “home” track.

But the 55-year-old Encinitas and Manhattan Beach resident readily admits that it didn’t feel the same as the other seven. Not in a time in which COVID-19 protocols for most of the meeting required stands empty of all but “essential” personnel and masks on the faces of everyone there in person.

“Last year felt abnormal, weird, very strange, surreal,” Miller said Monday during a break from morning workouts. “You’d win a race and it felt like you’d won a workout.”

Miller won 28 races, eight more than runner-up Phil D’Amato. Six came in stakes, to raise Miller’s career total to 38 over the last 14 years. And none of those horses returned to a winner’s circle ceremony of picture-taking, reward-presenting, hand-shaking, back-slapping and all-around smiling with success in accordance with decades of racing tradition.

So count Miller, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club CEO Joe Harper, and racetrackers of all sorts, who are looking forward to the return of fans and fanfare when the 82nd summer season commences a 31-day meeting on Friday.

“Real live people, that’s terrific,” said Harper, in his 44th year at the track helm. “I spent a lot of time walking around talking to myself last year.

“It’s just great. Having people around is what Del Mar is all about. It’s not your average racetrack. It’s a party, concerts and all the things that make people happy. It was kind of sad out here last year when your handle is $200,000 on track and $25 million off track. That was kind of a fun day, but it was just weird.”

“It’s a credit to the whole industry that we got through COVID as well as we did,” said trainer John Sadler, No. 2 for stakes wins (78) in track history. “Now we’re all happy and excited about having a return to normal.”

“We had gone through (COVID 2020 protocols) at Santa Anita before we came down here last summer, so we were kind of prepared,” said Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. “But the stands without fans, the quiet during the races … the weird feeling never went away.”

Billy Koch heads the Little Red Feather racing partnership group, whose all-out-for-fun approach, to racing and life, is especially suited to Del Mar. Little Red Feather’s Red King won the Del Mar Handicap and was voted the top grass horse of the meeting but only a handful of partners were able to celebrate on the tarmac down by the rail.

“We love it down here and Del Mar is the premier meeting we point to,” Koch said. “So it was difficult that a lot of our partners and fans couldn’t get in to see the horses run. But Del Mar did a good job of getting some in to see the races and we appreciated that.

“We did nothing last year (in the way of pre-meet partying), but we’re back this year and champing at the bit. Little Red Feather Nation will be out in force and we’re looking forward to a really good meeting.”

Del Mar opens its summer season on a Friday for the third time since 1970 and the sixth time in its history. Before last year’s COVID-forced no-count, the official totals were 42,562 on the grounds in 2016 and 11,998 in 1970. The other Friday openings came in 1959 and 1941.

Opening Friday 2021 won’t approach 2016 – which ranks as the 10th-highest turnout in track history – but it figures to be a happy contrast to 2020. Del Mar will open with 100% capacity in its seating areas throughout the facility and an approximately 16,000 sellout has been announced. This decision was made in accordance with state and county public health guidelines.

All fans wishing to attend must obtain a seating package in advance of their arrival. Admission tickets and parking passes are included in the package.

The post Fans, Horsemen Alike Ready To Celebrate ‘Real’ Del Mar Summer appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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