DEL MAR — And they’re off.
A Sept. 13 groundbreaking officially marked the start of the Del Mar Race Track’s $5 million expansion, a project that will increase safety “where the turf meets the surf” and possibly attract one of the sports’ most coveted events.
“If we get the Breeders’ Cup, that would be the cherry on top of the sundae,” said C.P. “Mac” McBride, director of media relations for the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which runs the annual races at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“But first and foremost, this will provide much safer racing for our jockeys and our horses,” he added. “It will make the turns softer and give them more room to work. It means we’ll have good turf racing all the time at Del Mar.
“The Breeders’ Cup would be great,” McBride said. “Bring it on. Let’s do it. But the new turf will be better and faster. That’s the big plus.”
The previous turf course, installed for the 1960 season, was about seven furlongs, or seven-eighths of a mile around.
The width varied from 52 feet to 63 feet on the straight-aways and 54 feet to 56 feet at the turns.
The course will be widened to 80 feet all around.
The main track, made up of synthetic materials under the brand name Polytrack, is eight furlongs, or 1 mile around. That will remain unchanged.
The old course had GN-1 Bermuda grass, or Greg Norman-1, named for the golfer who invented the strain.
The same type of grass will be used because of its proven ability to adapt and grow well in Del Mar and withstand the track’s use of salty reclaimed water.
The grass is also tough and dense, which keeps the hoof from penetrating the turf.
Twelve acres of the grass has been growing since October 2012 in Coachella. When it’s ready about 10.5 acres will be installed at Del Mar.
Leif Dickinson, DMTC’s turf and landscape superintendent, said that will likely be in early to mid-February. But since it will only take about a week to install, he said that date could be pushed out to April.
“This is a terrific day for us,” Joe Harper, DMTC president, said at the groundbreaking. “We’ve been talking about this for about 10 years.”
The new course will be able to accommodate 14 horses — a requirement for the Breeders’ Cup — rather than 10, which was the case through this year’s race season.
“We had to shut out a lot of horses because we just didn’t have the room,” Harper said. “And anytime you take a horse out of a race, it costs you money.”
Work to remove the old grass began Sept. 5, the day after the conclusion of the seven-week season, which was one of the safest, with only four injuries, and most successful in terms of handle and attendance.
West- and east-facing web cameras have been set up to follow the progress. Images will be captured every 30 minutes to create a time-lapse video when the project is complete.
Visit DMTC.com and click on the Interactive link.