Horse racing season still set to begin early at Del Mar Fairgrounds

Horses sprint from the gate at Del Mar on opening day last year. This year opening day will be July 10, without spectators.

((Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune)


Horse racing at the Del Mar Fairgrounds remains on pace to begin July 10, switching from its originally scheduled opening date of July 18 after the novel coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellations of other fairgrounds events.

During the June 16 meeting of the state-appointed board that represents the fairgrounds, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President Josh Rubinstein said the venue will follow “extensive operating procedures and protocols” to mitigate the risks of COVID-19.

In May, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club announced its plans to begin the season a little earlier. Races will be held without fans in attendance. Betting will take place off-site. Rubinstein said fans might be able to attend the summer races if public health guidelines are further loosened to allow it. He also said the thoroughbred club is partnering with local restaurants and other venues for watch parties.

The summer race meet will run through Labor Day on Sept. 7. In a statement released at the end of May, thoroughbred club CEO Joe Harper said the upcoming races will be “the most unique show in Del Mar history.”

“It’s going to look different, it’s going to feel different, but it’s going to be first-class horse racing at Del Mar and in these unusual times that’s something to look forward to,” he said.

Even as declining revenue and the growing number of protesters call the future of horse racing into question, the return of horse racing marks the beginning of a return to normal for the financially beleaguered fairgrounds.

So far, the Del Mar Fairgrounds has received $132,500 from the California Department of Food & Agriculture for expenses such as payroll and utilities. Fairgrounds officials have also asked their counterparts in Orange County for a loan that their fairgrounds board members will consider.