DEL MAR — With less than 250 days to go before the Breeders’ Cup makes its debut in Del Mar, planners behind what is considered the Super Bowl of thoroughbred horseracing held a press conference on Feb. 28 to announce details of the 34th running of the event, which begins Nov. 3 through Nov. 4.
“This is not going to be your grandmother’s Del Mar,” said former Del Mar resident Craig Fravel, who now serves as Breeders’ Cup president and CEO.
Organizers have spent about $4.5 million on improvements, including widening the track and creating 2,700 new premium seating options.
Two private, luxury “chalet villages” at the west end of the grandstand that will offer ocean and track views will be created. A casual-but-upscale infield sandy “beach” will seat up to 250 people, and 900 new temporary box seats will be added.
“So there will be plenty of great seats right along the stretch near the finish line,” Fravel said.
Tickets go on sale to the general public March 6 at BreedersCup.com/Tickets, but horseracing fans can sign up now at BreedersCup.com/2017 for presale access.
Single-day ticket prices will range from $35 to $375 on Friday and $50 to $500 on Saturday. Two-day packages will run between $85 and $1,875.
Presales to Turf Club members, box seat holders and previous Breeders’ Cup buyers totaled more than $3 million, including about $500,000 in the first hour of a recent release.
“We expect that kind of demand for tickets to prevail here at Del Mar,” Fravel said. “So we’re well on our way to doing exactly what we said we were going to do when we come to Del Mar, which is to sell this place out early and quickly.”
Attendance will be capped at 37,500 people — a few thousand less than opening day of the summer meet — and there will be no walk-up sales.
“You can’t drive in on Nov. 3 or 4 and just buy a ticket at the gate and walk in like you can on any other day of a race meet,” Fravel said. “You’ve got to buy them in advance. You’ve got to arrange parking in advance.”
For those who don’t secure onsite parking, there will be prepaid shuttles from several off-site locations, including area hotels, and “extensive Uber and Lyft service,” he said.
With all that in mind, Del Mar Mayor Terry Sinnott offered the first racing tip for the event.
“Come early,” he said. “We anticipate not only two days of the best competitive racing, but we look forward to all the many social, charity and community events that will take place in Del Mar throughout the week of the Breeders’ Cup.
“There will be a lot to enjoy in Del Mar — beaches, restaurants and relaxation,” Sinnott added.
Off-site events being planned include a golf tournament, a 5K race and a week of private and public activities at a temporary “Barn at the Beach,” currently in the permitting process, at Powerhouse Park.
Attendees can also go in search of 20 life-sized sculptures of historic Breeders’ Cup horses that will be decorated by local artists and displayed in Del Mar and throughout neighboring cities in an exhibit called “The Art of the Horse.”
Also on hand for the press conference, hosted by Laffit Pincay III, son of Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., were Hall of Fame jockeys Gary Stevens and Mike Smith, who rode Arrogate to victory in the 2016 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita.
“Del Mar has become my favorite city to be at,” Smith said. “And then to add my two favorite (racing) days on top of it is going to be incredible. I can’t wait. … To me, anyway, it’ll probably be the best one ever.”
“We didn’t know if this day would ever come,” said Stevens, who rode in the first Breeders’ Cup in 1984 at Hollywood Park.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who also attended the press conference, said the event will benefit the entire county. It is estimated it could have a total $100 million economic impact to the region.
“We’re going to have some of the best athletes in the world, the best horses in the world, right here in Del Mar and in San Diego for the entire world to see,” Faulconer said, highlighting other area attractions such as the zoo, SeaWorld, the USS Midway “and, of course, our world-class beaches and bays, not to mention craft beer and the fish tacos.”
“We really look forward to this kind of celebration of racing and the Breeders’ Cup,” Sinnott added. “We’re very pleased to be a host. We’re going to work hard to make this event a tremendous success for the region.”
Joe Harper, president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, said he has been trying to bring the Breeders’ Cup to Del Mar for more than a decade.
“When we first went back to pitch Del Mar to get a Breeders’ Cup it was obvious to me that what I had to pitch to them was San Diego and North County and Del Mar in particular,” Harper said. “Many of the people who made the decision to have Breeders’ Cup here had never been to Del Mar. Some had never been to San Diego.
“It’s pretty easy for me to sell something like this,” he added, referencing clear blue skies while standing atop the Del Mar Plaza with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop. “I think that of all the venues that Breeders’ Cup has been to this has got to be the icing on the cake.”