DEL MAR — After a fast start, Del Mar's business tailed off at the end of the seven-week season and the 50-year-old seaside track wound up with attendance figures comparable to last year.
Attendance for the 43 days averaged 19,685, which was almost the same as last year. The daily handle of $3.8 million was a track record and showed a 2.9% increase over 1986, but wagering lagged in the second half of the season.
Management here is giving several reasons for not doing better. Joe Harper, Del Mar's general manager, feels the competition from the two-week Orange County Fair, at Los Alamitos in August, is one of the most significant.
"When Los Alamitos opened," Harper said, "we were up about 5 or 6% in attendance over the previous year. When it ended, we were down 1%. When Los Alamitos started, we were up 15% in handle. Two weeks later, we were only up 5%.
"I think I can blame the California Horse Racing Board for the conflict that hurt us. And I will."
Allen Paulson owns 50% of Theatrical, the horse who finished third in this month's Budweiser-Arlington Million. Bert Firestone owns only about 30%.
Yet, it was Firestone, says Paulson, who made the decision to run Theatrical in the Million, a spot Paulson opposed.
"The horse is back in New York now, where he belongs," Paulson said. "He'll run in the Turf Classic at Belmont Park (on Sept. 26)."
Paulson was asked why Firestone calls the shots if he's a minority partner in the horse.
"Because he's the breeder and when we signed the agreement, he caught me in a weak moment," Paulson said. "A real weak moment. I was in the hospital with a back injury."
Dance of Life, who was scratched the morning of the Million, has been retired to stud because of a leg injury.
Mack Miller, Dance of Life's trainer, said that the top grass runner would either be sold or syndicated. Dance of Life finished first in the Sword Dancer at Belmont Park, but was disqualified for interference and the stewards awarded the win to Theatrical.
Add Dance of Life: The horse is owned by Paul Mellon, the multi-millionaire who won this year's Travers at Saratoga with Java Gold.
On Travers day, Mellon was running another horse, Jack of Clubs, in the fourth race. Mellon arrived just after the race ended, because his flight had been delayed by inclement weather.
Mack Miller, Mellon's trainer, picked up the owner at the Albany, N.Y., airport, and when they walked into Saratoga, the first thing they saw was the tote board, showing a $23.40 win payoff for Jack of Clubs.
Miller turned to Mellon and said: "Too bad you didn't get to bet the horse. You'd be a rich man now."
Al Mamoon and Delicate Vine, two Bobby Frankel-trained horses who have had physical problems this year, are still possibilities for the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park on Nov. 21.
Delicate Vine, who tied for third in the Eclipse Awards voting for 2-year-old filly last year, has been training at Del Mar.
Al Mamoon, who finished third in the voting for best turf male last year, is re-growing a hoof and should be back at the track soon.
Frankel will try to give both horses a start at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita, then determine if they can run in the Breeders' Cup. He would run Delicate Vine against males and put Al Mamoon in the Breeders' Cup Mile on grass. Al Mamoon was third in the Mile at Aqueduct in 1985, then finished fifth in the same stake at Santa Anita last year.
After a rocky four years at Hollywood Park, Bob Umphrey is settling in as racing secretary at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields.
"I feel like I'm a born-again racing secretary," Umphrey said. "Now I'm at a place where I can do my job again."
Horse Racing Notes Tejano, the winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity and one of the top 2-year-olds in the country, has been listed some places as not being eligible for the Breeders' Cup. But a Breeders' Cup official said that this was an error and Tejano is eligible. . . . An English business publication reports that Robert Sangster, the Englishman who's been a free spender at Keeneland's hoity-toity yearling sales for several years, could be feeling a money crush. Vernons, the English bookmaking firm that is part of the Sangster empire, has increased borrowing and shown reduced profits. Profits dropped from 17-million pounds in 1981 to 9.7-million pounds in 1985, and borrowing went from 11.4-million pounds to 50.6-million over a three-year period ending in 1985. . . . Apprentice jockey Aaron Gryder, who missed the last two days of the Del Mar meeting, has been hospitalized with a virus and probably won't resume riding until the Oak Tree season opens at Santa Anita on Oct. 7.