Del Mar hurt by turf problems


If you could think of one word to describe this Del Mar meet, what would it be? I’d use tumultuous.

I know it’s a big word with too many letters for Scrabble. But it aptly describes what has happened this summer. For example, you can’t even say “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” with a straight face.

That’s because turf racing has been suspended twice due to way too many horse fatalities on the new grass course. It was deemed too hard, so the course was aerated multiple times and heavily watered to soften it up.

Turf racing will return on Saturday, and more than a few people will be holding their collective breaths.

The synthetic main track has been an issue, mainly for horseplayers. It not only changes bias from day to day, but seemingly race to race.

For example, in the first eight days of the meet, favorites won at a knuckle-scraping 18 percent. The national average is 33 percent. And 20 percent of the races were won by horses that paid $30 and up. Long shots are nice, if you have them. But you still needed to bet on the right bombs, which has been very difficult. The handle so far at Del Mar is down 6.6 percent, and attendance is down 5.3 percent. I’m not surprised. The loss of turf racing is a big hit. But so have been the random results on the main track, which affect the churn of the regular bettors.

As for attendance, Del Mar is aided by great daily coverage in the San Diego area. Even that is a double-edged sword. When a horse is seemingly dying every other day, you can’t sugarcoat that with a barrel of honey.

The meet is so short, by the time they fix things it’ll be Labor Day weekend. Maybe the November meet will have much smoother sailing.

■ ANNOUNCER’S DERBY II REDUX — Horse racing fans, no doubt, are passionate about their track announcers. Last week I wrote about retiring NYRA announcer Tom Durkin and named some potential replacements.

I received scores of responses basically saying, “How could you leave this person off your list?” I’ll list these people, and if you can correctly name the tracks they call at, you deserve a kewpie doll.

In alphabetical order: Paul Allen, Kurt Becker, Peter Berry, John Bothe, Trevor Denman, Bill Downes, Angela Hermann, Mark Johnson, Keith Jones, Sam McKee, Frank Mirahmadi, Bobby Neuman and Dave Rodman.

A few names jump off the list. Paul Allen, who calls at Canterbury Downs, is the radio voice of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. He also hosts a top-rated sports talk show on KFAN.

Kurt Becker, who calls at Keeneland, actually left horse racing in 1994 to work for the Motor Racing Network. He’s been there now for 20 years.

And finally, when track announcers finally do get inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame, Durkin and Denman should be the first two in.

While Denman may be flattered by an offer from NYRA, the odds of he and his wife, Robin, moving to New York are slim and none. The couple owns a farm in rural Minnesota where they spend their free time.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.