DEL MAR, Calif. -- Horse racing enthusiasts will gather at the Del Mar racetrack on Saturday for the annual TVG Pacific Classic.
"It's a million-dollar race; not many of those around except for the Breeders' Cup and the Triple Crown races," CEO of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club Joe Harper said.
The TVG Pacific Classic is considered one of the richest days of racing -- except for the Breeders' Cup -- in Del Mar history. Horses come from far and wide to participate in the mile-and-a-quarter race, like this year's competitors For the Top, trained by the legendary Bob Baffert, and War Story from New Jersey.
"Opening Day is more like a party with people all over just wanting to have a good time. This is more about horses and people coming out to watch a really terrific race," Harper said.
Harper highlighted the importance of safety in the days leading up to the TVG Pacific Classic. "For some places it's a tough decision to make: profitability or safety. That's not a problem for us. It's all about safety. Del Mar is actually a not-for-profit company. Every cent we make here stays here."
Del Mar Racing made significant changes to its race schedule in 2016, including starting a week later after the annual San Diego County Fair, investing $1.5 million in the track and hiring more veterinarians.
Dr. Alina Vale has worked with horses for more than 25 year as an endurance rider and for 10 years as a veterinarian. "I'm very proud to be a part of the monitoring veterinarian team. I think we've really made a significant impact on racehorse welfare and safety by decreasing the number of fatal breakdowns in morning workouts. "
There are seven vets on staff at Del Mar Racing who check the horses a minimum of four times a day on race day. There are also an additional 20 vets working privately behind the scenes. Vale and her team are checking on everything from the mental and physical well-being of the horses to make sure they maintain good movement and good attitude.
"The official vets check the horses not only the morning of the race, but in the days preceding the race so that we get a better glimpse of the horses instead of just a one-time view," Vale said. The trainers and others working in the stable areas are also looking out for the horses, "catching mild injuries before they become major injuries," Vale said.
"We've had a 70% reduction in horses over the past two years, and we've had the safest track in North America because of the changes we made three years ago," Harper said.
In addition to the million-dollar race, four other races will be held on August 17 with purses worth $100,000 or more.