A day at the races at Del Mar – ‘Where the Turf Meets the Surf’

Horses race down the stretch on the turf course at today’s Del Mar.

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal
Special to the Village News

Del Mar, for the first time in its storied history, will host the prestigious Breeders’ Cup World Championships during its 16-day fall racing season that opens Nov. 1 and continues through Nov. 26.

Some of the best thoroughbreds in the world will compete at the seaside racetrack
Nov. 3-4 when Del Mar presents the Breeders’ Cup, which encompasses 13 races worth $29 million in purses.

“It was the 2014 expansion of our turf course that has enabled us to run 14 horses abreast which was the final requirement for hosting the Breeders’ Cup,” said Mac McBride, director of media for Del Mar.

Steeped in tradition and wrapped in Hollywood glamour, Del Mar is amongst America’s top thoroughbred racing facilities. The track opened July 3, 1937, supported by the efforts of two of Hollywood’s best, Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien, and has earned respect by annually hosting some of the finest horseflesh in the country ever since.

For example, 2015 Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah began his career at Del Mar in 2014 and broke his maiden in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. California Chrome, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2014 en route to earning Horse of the Year honors, won the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar in 2016. The Pacific Classic victory helped California Chrome secure another Horse of the Year title.

In its 78-year history the track’s only closure was for three years during WWII when Marines used the grounds for a training camp and later the facility was used to build B-17 bombers.

Bing Crosby, down by the rail with pipe and white boater hat, is among the more than 15,000 people in attendance for Opening Day at Del Mar, July 3, 1937. Crosby co-founded the track.

Crosby reopened the track July 11, 1945 and it has remained open ever since. The recent summer season began July 19 and ended Sept. 4, Labor Day, with its regular closing-day headliner, the $300,000 Del Mar Futurity, a 7-furlong race for 2-year-olds that has often put a spotlight on a future star, including three of the last five Kentucky Derby winners.

In 1938, one of racing’s most renowned duels was staged at Del Mar. The legendary Seabiscuit was pitted against the South American champion, Ligaroti, with ‘the Biscuit’ winning the $25,000 winner-take-all showdown by a nose in track record time. The little horse with the big heart showed once again why he was America’s hero and in the process put the little track by the ocean on the country’s racing map.

One of the most innovative additions introduced by Crosby into a thoroughbred racing venue was the world’s first photo-finish camera. Developed by a Hollywood cameraman who worked with Crosby at Paramount Studios, its ability to show an actual photo at the finish of each race eliminated any doubts about who the winners were and put an end to the stewards’ judgment calls that – by their very nature – left more than a few racing fans unhappy.

Digital technology has made today’s photo-finish cameras even faster and better and that same kind of modern technology now allows for each racehorse to carry a transponder in their saddlecloths, which in turn projects their actual running position during a race to be shown in real time on a video board in the track’s infield.

Like many of the other famous tracks, Del Mar hosts a hat contest on opening day of the summer meeting. With an excuse to dress up, many ladies appear in their finery to grace the stands.

And there was more to do at Del Mar last summer than to just bet on horses. For instance, there were free concerts with track admission as well as mixers on Friday nights.
As far as betting goes, Del Mar even provides free-of-charge handicapping seminars every Saturday and Sunday at the Seaside Terrace at the West end of the grandstand. And if that is not enough, the track also hosts Newcomers Betting Seminars that are also free. The classes are given by horsemen, handicapping experts and media members who analyze all of the day’s races and provide their selections.

In addition, the various Information Desks around the track offer free handouts that outline the different betting terms, how to place a bet, the payoff odds as well as other racing information.

According to McBride, the majority of betting on Del Mar’s races is placed off-track at one of many (more than 1,000) national or international off-track locations throughout the western hemisphere, or through more than two dozen California satellite wagering sites. Additionally, wagering can be conducted on most electronic devices using account wagering sites, and through networks that televise the races, such as TVG.

The standard racetrack bet is $2 to win (finish first), place (finish first or second) or show (finish first, second or third). There are an array of multiple horse and/or multiple race bets that are offered for as low as $1, 50-cents, or even 10-cents.

The sky’s the limit for how large a bet you’re allowed to make. While movie star and celebrity legends have attended the races at Del Mar over the years, sports stars are now the “stars” of the day and many of them rank amongst its newest owners of thoroughbreds.

To get into the thoroughbred racing game, it requires a bit of change, starting with the cost of the horse (anywhere from thousands to millions of dollars), along with $30,000 to $40,000 or so per year for care, plus insurance, license fees and other items. If you can pass that muster, it doesn’t cost anything to enter your horse in a race at Del Mar, unless your equine is good enough to compete in stakes races, where there are nomination, entry and starting fees. Some would say it was a happy problem.

Getting to Del Mar is easy. Either drive north or south on I-5 to the Via de la Valle exit west, then go south on Jimmy Durante Blvd. On site parking is from $10 for self-parking to $25 for valet. Or take the Coaster to the Solana Beach stop and enjoy a free shuttle to the track.

Entry fee into Del Mar is $6, or only $3 when joining the free Diamond Club. Bring a folding chair and sit right down front near the track, or pay extra to grab a seat in the clubhouse section. There are all sorts of styles and varieties of good food throughout the facility, from snack bars on up to restaurant quality.

For most of us going to Del Mar is an event. We can relive the glamour of days gone by. It is exciting. Dress up or down. A day at the races should be on your things to do list.
Here is a chance to enjoy the Sport of Kings – practically in our backyard – while experiencing one of racing’s finest events, the Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar Nov. 3-4.

For ticket information, visit www.dmtc.com or call (858) 755-1141.

Editor’s Note: Mac McBride, director of media, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, contributed to this article.

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