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It’s lights out this year for a Del Mar holiday tradition

DEL MAR — The Del Mar Fairgrounds has pulled the plug on this year’s Holiday of Lights. 

What would have been the 19th annual event has been canceled because of the turf-widening project currently under way at the racetrack.

“It was necessary because of the construction in the infield,” fairgrounds spokeswoman Linda Zweig said. “The $5 million widening of the track will allow a second meet in 2014 and the ability to attract the Breeders’ Cup in 2015.”

The drive-through event that features hundreds of holiday scenes formed in thousands of twinkling lights usually opens the night before Thanksgiving and runs through the first Sunday in January.

Last year 78,000 people in 19,561 vehicles at a cost of $15 to $20 per car and $50 per bus drove through the attraction.

The displays are organized into themes that include Candy Cane Lane, Toyland, San Diego County Fair, Treasures by the Lake, Del Mar Racetrack, the 12 Days of Christmas and Elves at Play.

A Holiday Hayride was added in 2009 that allowed visitors to tour the light display in the back of an open hay wagon for $10 per person, including hot chocolate or cider and a holiday cookie.

The loading area at the paddock featured live holiday music, marshmallow roasting and additional food and beverages.

The widening project began the day after the 2013 race meet ended in early September. Del Mar Thoroughbred Club officials said the main reason for the widening is to increase safety for the jockeys and horses.

“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 DMTC, which runs the annual races at the fairgrounds.

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.

The main track, made up of synthetic materials under the brand name Polytrack, will remain unchanged.

With the closure of Hollywood Park, Del Mar is slated to add a fall horse racing meet beginning next year that will run from Nov. 5 through Dec. 7, coinciding with Holiday of Lights.

“Holiday of Lights is a holiday tradition for a lot of families and our hope is to bring it back next year,” Zweig said.

“Everything, timing and all, will be predicated on the progress of the construction of the track.”

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