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DEL MAR, Calif. – The horses are grazing and the turf is being meticulously groomed.

With race weekend looming, Del Mar was filled with energy as fans were set to return to the track for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2019.

Friday’s opening day is sold out as roughly 18,000 tickets have been sold. With 2,000 workers, that rounds the capacity to 20,000, according to track officials.

On a normal year, the capacity would include nearly double the amount of people.

“People are going to be more comfortable I think, and I think all of them are going to be happy that we are open as much as we are,” said Joe Harper, the president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

In a strange twist, officials say changes due to the pandemic have set up more talent in the racing pool than they’ve seen in years.

“We made so much money in the betting last summer off track, that this year’s purse money to go to the races will be 30% higher,” Harper said. “So we are getting a lot of good horses.”

The gates open at noon with the first race set to start at 2 p.m. The ever-famous fascinator/hat contest is set for 3 p.m.